Nature retracts epigenetics paper by author who lost two Science papers last year

cover_natureFrank Sauer, formerly of the University of California, Riverside, has had a 2002 letter on epigenetics retracted from Nature due to “inappropriate image manipulation.”

Sauer had two papers retracted from Science last year following a university investigation. Here’s the Nature notice for “Histone methylation by the Drosophila epigenetic transcriptional regulator Ash1:”

The authors and the University of California Riverside wish to retract this Letter owing to inappropriate image manipulation in the published figures. The figure panels affected are Figure 1b, d, Figure 2b, e, Figure 3a and Figure 4d. Nature has not received a response from Frank Sauer to approve this retraction.

The paper been cited 220 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

This is Sauer’s fourth retraction, by our count. In February, he and the university retracted another paper from Molecular Cell following a university investigation that revealed “a significant departure from the accepted practices of Sauer’s research community.” Here’s more from the note for “The Noncoding RNA Mistral Activates Hoxa6 and Hoxa7 Expression and Stem Cell Differentiation by Recruiting MLL1 to Chromatin:”

Molecular Cell is retracting this paper at the request of the Regents of the University of California, Riverside and author Frank Sauer, following correspondence that the editors received from the University and Sauer. This request followed allegations that were subsequently investigated by the Committee on Privilege and Tenure at the University of California, Riverside. The Committee concluded that in Figure S1C of the paper, gel bands were removed to create the image that was submitted for publication. The Committee further concluded that this manipulation constituted data falsification and fabrication as well as a significant departure from the accepted practices of Sauer’s research community.

The Molecular Cell paper has been cited 116 times.

Sauer still has a page on the UCR website, but the link to his page in the biochemistry department is not working.

We’ve contacted the university for comment, and will update with anything we learn.

Update, 5:30 p.m. Eastern, 4/16/15: A commenter notes that Sauer had a Cell paper retracted in 1998, making this his fifth.

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6 thoughts on “Nature retracts epigenetics paper by author who lost two Science papers last year”

  1. This would be his fifth retraction. In 1998 Cell retracted his paper published in Cell 1996 as first author on TAFII mediated activation of transcription in Drosophila embryo.
    Surprising how despite having a history, his publications were not scrutinized properly and he was allowed to potentially ruin the careers of students/ post docs/ techs working with him

    1. The Cell retraction notice suggests that it was retracted once a technical error brought their results into contention. Prior to the more recent spate of retractions there was nothing to indicate it as anything other than a genuine attempt to clean the scientific record. If such retractions were to result in future work being treated with greater suspicion during peer review, it would discourage researchers from cleaning the record after errors come to light.

      1. I agree with you that there may be genuine mistakes and clearing them up should be encouraged. However we have also seen several instances where misconduct is covered by such terms. I am not from this field therefore my understanding of certain things may not be accurate. A couple of things that stand out –
        1. “technical error in staining of embryos in situ” this was not a new technique developed in the lab and reported for the first time. As per the methods, they had followed a published technique (papers cited from 1989, 1986)
        2. The retraction notice claims that the mutational data obtained by Frank Sauer were correct and reproduced by Zhou yet he was not included as an author in their paper ‘Zhou, J., Zwicker, J., Szymanski, P. Levine, M., and Tjian, R. (1998). TAFII mutations disrupt Dorsal activation in the Drosophila embryo. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA’
        3. This cell paper was an extension of their work published in Science 1995, 2 papers in a year in science, but the retraction of the cell paper marked the end of Tjian and Sauer co-authorship. A pubmed search with these 2 author names shows only 5 papers – 2 science 1995, cell 1996, a review article in 1997, retraction in 1998!!

    2. Out of interest, I visited the Pubmed page of the original 1996 Cell paper at

      which very properly links to the retraction notice referred to above. However, following the link from there to the publisher’s page at

      (should be open access), there is no indication regarding the retraction, and worse, neither is there in the pdf file available from that page. Isn’t this a minimum standard for retracted papers? Am I missing something?

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