Rabbit redo: Paper on lepus hepatitis pulled for mutation that “was not supposed to be present”

JGVThe authors of recent article about the rabbit hepatitis E virus have pulled the paper after discovering an unexpected mutation in their viral clone that likely affected the analysis.

They realized their mistake soon after the article, “RNA transcripts of full-length cDNA clones of rabbit hepatitis E virus are infectious in rabbits,” was published online in the Journal of General Virology in November, 2014. They withdrew the article before it made it into print.

The article came from a group led by Xiang-Jin Meng, of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, an offshoot of Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland.

Here’s the notice, which — tsk tsk — sits behind a pay wall:

In our paper we described the construction of a full-length infectious cDNA clone of rabbit hepatitis E virus. Subsequent studies in our laboratory have found the existence of an additional BglII restriction enzyme site, which was not supposed to be present in the viral genome. The BglII enzyme happens to be the enzyme that was used to linearize the rabbit HEV cDNA clone, and therefore because of this additional BglII restriction site in the viral genome, linearization with BglII would not result in a full-length viral genome. This finding raises concerns about the infectivity data reported in this manuscript which the authors are currently investigating. For this reason, we retract the paper which appeared online ahead of print and apologize for the inconvenience caused to readers. This retraction was agreed by all authors and the Editor-in-Chief for the journal.

Meng tells us:

After this paper was accepted for publication, we subsequently identified a critical nucleotide mutation in the infectious cDNA clone described in the paper. This critical nucleotide mutation created a new restriction enzyme site in the clone that is normally non-existent in the wild-type virus. Therefore, we are concerned about the effect of this mutation on the infectivity efficiency of the infected clone described in the paper, and thus we decided to WITHDRAW the manuscript until we fix the unwanted mutation in the clone. Unfortunately when we requested our withdrawal of the accepted paper from the journal office, the accepted un-proofed version was already posted online (but it was never published in print). Thus, we decided to retract the posted online version of the manuscript (the so-called epub before print version) so that we can work to fix the mutation.

No other study or paper from my lab or from any other labs was affected by this since this mutation was discovered only less than a month after the paper was accepted, and consequently this paper was never published in print.  My lab is the only group who has this rabbit HEV clone, and thus it does not affect any other groups in the scientific community as we did not distribute the clone to anyone else.

We’d consider this a case of doing the right thing, and commend the authors on acting quickly to correct the record.

Update 6/17/15 11:00 a.m.: Meng contacted us to update his comments, fixing the description of the HEV clone from “avian” to “rabbit.”

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