Olivier Voinnet, a high-profile plant scientist at ETH Zurich, has earned a mega-correction. It wrapped up a rough year for the biologist, which included his seventh retraction, and a CNRS investigation that found evidence of misconduct.
This latest correction, to a paper on the mechanisms behind RNA silencing in Arabidopsis, was published in RNA. The 2007 paper has been cited 101 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. The corrigendum modifies three figures in total.
The notice is long, so we’re not going to post the whole thing here. The first error in “Transitivity in Arabidopsis can be primed, requires the redundant action of the antiviral Dicer-like 4 and Dicer-like 2, and is compromised by viral-encoded suppressor proteins” is a clarification to a legend:
The original legend for Figure 1, panel C could potentially be misleading and is therefore corrected as follows…
The rest results from “mounting mistakes:”
A comparison of the published figures and the original raw data has revealed several mounting mistakes, which have been shared with the editor-in-chief and systematically corrected based on the original files provided.
The note explains how each figure was affected:
- In Figure 2, panel D a “blot used to mount this panel has been spliced to remove unnecessary data but this operation was not disclosed.”
- In Figure 2, panel E a “GFP control for this figure comes from a separate blot, which was not specified in the published figure, creating an offset in the rRNA loading control.”
- Figure 3, “was originally believed to depict the same blot as in Figure 2E, stripped and rehybridized for various endogenous small RNAs. This led to the use of the same rRNA loading control as in Figure 2E…However, inspection of the original data revealed that none of the VSRs used in the experiments depicted in Figure 3 were in the GFFG–GFP background used in Figure 2E.”
- In figure 4, the “blot used to mount this panel has been spliced to remove unnecessary data but this operation was not disclosed.”
The correction also notes:
All of the authors have approved these corrections and apologize for any resulting inconvenience.
The editor in chief of RNA, Timothy Nilsen, told us that the decision to correct the paper
was made by me and only me without consultation with anyone at CNRS or ETH. Dr. Voinnet requested the opportunity to correct misrepresentations that were present in his 2007 paper. I granted that request because I believe that these sorts of things should be aired publicly in front of the scientific community and not anonymously or behind closed doors. It is up to the scientific community to make their own judgments regarding the credibility of the correction. The decision by RNA (me) in no way was intended to either explicitly or implicitly condone the actions of Dr. Voinnet.
He also told us:
A full retraction of the work was neither proposed nor discussed.
In the meantime, we’ve uncovered two other corrections Voinnet issued earlier this year. The first paper, “Isoprenoid biosynthesis is required for miRNA function and affects membrane association of ARGONAUTE 1 in Arabidopsis,” was published in PNAS and cited 37 times, had problems with a figure. Here’s more from the correction note, issued in May:
It has been brought to our attention that a loading control panel in Fig. 5C had been incorrectly assembled. We have verified that mistakes were indeed made in assembling the loading control panels in the upper half of Fig. 5C. We have retrieved the original exposures of the Western blots and Coomassie-stained membranes. The original data show that the conclusion drawn on the basis of the data inFig. 5C, that in inflorescences, ago1-38 mutant protein is less abundant specifically in microsomal fractions, remains valid.
The other unearthed correction is for “Selective autophagy degrades DICER and AGO2 and regulates miRNA activity,” published in Nature Cell Biology and cited 69 times. Here’s the correction note, which was published in July:
In the version of this Letter originally published, the TUBA immunoblotting panel and the Coomassie-stained panel was used in Figure 5c (in the dataset corresponding to let-7 antagomir treatment, top set of panels), and reused in Figure 5e, without appropriate acknowledgement. The Coomassie-stained gel was vertically flipped in Figure 5e but the alignment of the lanes was maintained. The TUBA immunoblot and Coomassie-stained membranes represent experimental controls. The p62 panel in Figures 2j and 2k (CQ-treated) was also reused without appropriate attribution. In all cases of reuse of blots between panels, the samples were obtained within one representative experiment and processed in parallel.
The authors confirm that all instances of vertical splicing of lanes, for example in Figs 1 and 3, were carried out in full compliance with the journal guidelines. All spliced samples were collected and processed in a single experiment.
The original publication was missing Supplementary Fig. S3 containing the uncropped scans of the blots; this has now been included online.
We’ve also found three corrections on two papers from years past:
“Multivesicular bodies associate with components of miRNA effector complexes and modulate miRNA activity,” published in Nature Cell Biology, and was corrected in 2009
“Small RNA duplexes function as mobile silencing signals between plant cells,” published in Science; corrected in 2010, and in 2011
By our count, Voinnet has a total of 18 corrections for 17 papers. One of his papers was corrected twice; our correction count also includes three papers that were corrected and later retracted.
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