Biologists earn 5th retraction following Swedish investigation

plos pathA team of biologists have earned a fifth retraction for a paper containing manipulated images, following an investigation by the Swedish government.

Last year, the investigation found that former Uppsala University doctoral student Apiruck Watthanasurorot had manipulated figures in five papers, four of which have already been retracted. Earlier this year, we reported that his supervisor, last author Kenneth Söderhäll, had requested PLOS Pathogens simply correct the fifth paper because independent groups have confirmed the findings. But according to the retraction notice for “Bacteria-Induced Dscam Isoforms of the Crustacean, Pacifastacus leniusculus,” Söderhäll has since agreed to the retraction:

After publication of the article, a reader raised concerns about two figures:

  • In Figure 5A, lane 1 looks very similar to the top band in lane 7 and lane 2 looks very similar to the top band in lane 5.
  • In Figure 7B, in the P/Dscam panel, lanes 1 through 6 all look very similar to each other; in the WWSV VP28 panel, lanes 2 and 3 look very similar to each other; and in the WSSV VP28 panel, lanes 5 through 9 all look very similar to each other.

These concerns were brought to the attention of the Corresponding Author, Kenneth Söderhäll, along with a request to provide the raw blots for each of the two figures to allow for full examination. In response, Dr. Söderhäll informed the journal that the authors were unable to provide the raw blots, stating that the first author, Apiruck Watthanasurorot, who conducted the experiments and who handled and assembled these figures, has been out of contact and he has the original files. A researcher in Dr. Söderhäll’s group, who was not involved in the original study, has repeated the experiments and confirmed the results in Figures 5A and 7B. In addition, other published findings support the conclusions of this paper. However, the authors are retracting this publication due to the possibility of misrepresentation of the data. An investigation of Figure 5A and Figure 7B in this article by Uppsala University, conducted by an Expert Group for Scientific Misconduct at the Central Ethical Review Board, led to the recommendation to retract the article on the grounds of image manipulation by Apiruck Watthansurorot, and the unavailability of the original images.

All of the authors, except Apiruck Watthansurorot who could not be contacted, have agreed to this retraction. The authors apologize to the readers and editors of PLOS Pathogens for these errors.

The 2011 paper has been cited 62 times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science. A commenter on PubPeer raised concerns about figures 5A and 7B in 2014.

The Swedish investigation found that Kenneth Söderhäll and co-author Irene Söderhäll, a lecturer at Uppsala, had acted “negligently” and “dishonestly” by failing to supervise their graduate student. The case raised larger questions about how Sweden handles misconduct; the government is now taking a second look at its process.

We contacted the Söderhälls to ask if they still think the paper should have been corrected, and for more information on what aspects of the manipulated images were confirmed by further experiments.

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