Brandeis investigation finds scientific misconduct in gold nanoparticle paper


A group of authors is retracting a paper from Structure following a Brandeis University investigation that found the first author had fabricated a key result.

Former graduate student Kelsey Anthony was first author of the paper, “High-Affinity Gold Nanoparticle Pin to Label and Localize Histidine-Tagged Protein in Macromolecular Assemblies, which was published online in February 2014. At the time, the Science at Brandeis blog noted:

In essence, Kelsey has created a stunning golden microscopic studded ring.

She did: “the gold labeling…was successful,” says the retraction notice. It just wasn’t as successful as the paper claimed. The fabrication, according to the retraction notice,

…gave the impression of very efficient labeling, but this is not the case.

Commenters on PubPeer had raised concerns about several of the images a couple after publication. The investigation found only Figure 3B to be problematic.

Here’s the retraction note in full:

This article has been retracted at the request of the authors.

It was brought to our attention that Figure 3B of this paper, which shows very efficient labeling of the RuvB oligomer, contains an image that was possibly fabricated. An allegation of scientific misconduct was therefore lodged through the appropriate channel at Brandeis University against the paper’s first author, Kelsey Anthony. Pursuant to the university’s Research Misconduct Policy, the relevant facts and materials were collected by the Senior Research Officer, and this material was presented to the Provost. This investigation concluded that Kelsey Anthony did carry out scientific misconduct and that none of the paper’s co-authors were privy to her actions. In addition, an external independent review was obtained by Brandeis University that concurred with these findings. The external review also substantiated that the EM images and data in Figures 4C and 4D, which show the labeling of the 50S, were not falsified.

The fabrication of RuvB labeling gave the impression of very efficient labeling, but this is not the case. While the gold labeling of 50S was successful, the misconduct of the first author noted above leaves us no other option but to retract this publication. We apologize to our colleagues for any loss of time or resources caused by this publication.

We were unable to find contact information for Anthony. Irving Epstein, the current Interim Senior Research Officer at Brandeis, told Retraction Watch:

Kelsey Anthony is no longer a student at Brandeis.  The investigation found no evidence that any other papers were affected.

He declined to provide a copy of the report mentioned in the retraction note:

Sorry, the report is an internal document that is not available to the public.  The notice accurately summarizes the situation.

The bios of few of the current members of principal investigator Daniel Pomeranz Krummel’s lab mention that they have collaborated with Anthony. That of Master’s student Zhi Yang references the retracted paper specifically:

I am also participating in establishing use of a gold labeling reagent (see the paper by my colleague Kelsey Anthony: Anthony et al. Structure, 2014) that has wide-ranging applications, including uses in electron microscopy, x-ray scattering, and x-ray diffraction studies.

We emailed Yang and asked if the misconduct will affect his work. We haven’t heard back.

Cell Press, which publishes Structure, responded to our request for comment:

We feel that the retraction notice gives clear information about the situation and we don’t have anything to add.

As it happens, we agree. If every notice were this clear, we wouldn’t have nearly as much to ferret out.

The paper, a collaboration with a group at the University of Osnabruek in Germany, has been cited once, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Hat tip: @gastonparis

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