Infamous case of fraud by protein crystallographer ends in 10-year funding ban

In 2009, a university announced a prominent researcher in the field of protein crystallography had likely fabricated nearly a dozen protein structures. Nine years later, the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) has upheld the results — and announced a relatively long sanction, by the agency’s standards.

Today, the ORI placed a 10-year ban on Federal funding for H.M. Krishna Murthy, a former research associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), noting he “falsified and/or fabricated” research in nine papers and multiple structures added to a widely used database. Four of the papers have already been retracted; two others have been flagged with an expression of concern by the journal. Three remain otherwise intact.

The announcement was a long time coming — after the ORI provided Murthy with its initial finding and proposed sanctions, he appealed. On January 19, 2018, and Administrative Law Judge declined to move forward with the appeal, allowing the agency to proceed. Today’s finding was accompanied by a rare message from the interim office of the director, Wanda Jones, in which she notes today’s announcement:

Continue reading Infamous case of fraud by protein crystallographer ends in 10-year funding ban

Structural biology corrections highlight best of the scientific process

Nature_latest-coverIf you need evidence of the value of transparency in science, check out a pair of recent corrections in the structural biology literature.

This past August, researchers led by Qiu-Xing Jiang at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center corrected their study, first published in February 2014 in eLife, of prion-like protein aggregates called MAVS filaments, to which they had ascribed the incorrect “helical symmetry.” In March, Richard Blumberg of Harvard Medical School, and colleagues corrected their 2014 Nature study of a protein complex called CEACAM1/TIM-3, whose structure they had attempted to solve using x-ray crystallography.

In both cases, external researchers were able to download and reanalyze the authors’ own data from public data repositories, making it quickly apparent what had gone wrong and how it needed to be fixed — highlighting the very best of a scientific process that is supposed to be self-correcting and collaborative. Continue reading Structural biology corrections highlight best of the scientific process

Nature retracts paper six years after it was flagged for fraud

cover_natureNature retracted a paper on protein structures today, six years after an investigation at the University of Alabama identified several structures that were “more likely than not falsified and/or fabricated” by one of the authors.

The paper came under scrutiny soon after it was published in 2006. A letter published in Nature that same year pointed out “physically implausible features in the structures it described.” That triggered the investigation at the University of Alabama, the result of which was published in 2009, identifying “nine publications related to the same protein structures that should be retracted from various scientific journals.” Everything was pinned on last author H.M. Krishna Murthy, who the investigation determined was “solely responsible for the fraudulent data.”

A 2009 Nature news article on the investigation declared that the “fraud is the largest ever in protein crystallography.”

We’re not sure what took Nature so long to retract the letter, titled “The structure of complement C3b provides insights into complement activation and regulation.” Here’s the note, which explains that not all the authors agreed to the retraction:

Continue reading Nature retracts paper six years after it was flagged for fraud

“Unethical behavior” breaks crystallography paper

Molecules and Cells

A 2011 paper about the crystal structure of a transcription regulator has been pulled by Molecules and Cells for “unethical behavior by the authors.”

Unfortunately, we can’t say much more than that, because the notice doesn’t, either: Continue reading “Unethical behavior” breaks crystallography paper

Two crystallography papers break apart for “trivial errors,” says author

ACBiophysicists in India have retracted two crystallography papers describing protein binding sites following “concerns,” according to one retraction note.

The last author on both papers, however, told us he believed the retractions were the result of “trivial errors.” Although one journal praised him in its retraction note for his “positive engagement,” he said the process left him feeling “disgusted.”

One paper, “Structural Studies on Molecular Interactions between Camel Peptidoglycan Recognition Protein, CPGRP-S, and Peptidoglycan Moieties N-Acetylglucosamine and N-Acetylmuramic Acid,” was withdrawn from the Journal of Biological Chemistry in August 2014.

The second, “Mode of binding of the antithyroid drug propylthiouracil to mammalian haem peroxidases,” was retracted from Acta Crystallographica Section F this month. Here’s the retraction notice: Continue reading Two crystallography papers break apart for “trivial errors,” says author

Crystal confusion leads to retractions for optics researchers

spectrochimica acta part aA mistaken molecular structure has led to a retraction and a withdrawal for group in India studying optical crystals.

Here’s the notice for “Crystal growth and spectroscopic characterization of Aloevera amino acid added lithium sulfate monohydrate: A non-linear optical crystal” in Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Continue reading Crystal confusion leads to retractions for optics researchers

Doing the right thing: Authors retract protein paper after finding experimental errors

embo reportsA group of researchers in the Netherlands has retracted a paper once they realized that the findings weren’t reproducible and that there had been an error in the experiments.

Here’s the notice for “Ubiquitin‐specific protease 4 is inhibited by its ubiquitin‐like domain,” by MP Luna‐Vargas, AC Faesen, WJ van Dijk, M Rape, A Fish, and TK Sixma: Continue reading Doing the right thing: Authors retract protein paper after finding experimental errors

A partial retraction appears for former Salzburg crystallographer who admitted misconduct

j imm april 2013A paper by a crystallographer fired from his university for misconduct has been partially retracted.

Last year, we covered the case of Robert Schwarzenbacher, formerly of Salzburg University. Schwarzenbacher had provided the crystallographic data for a paper in the Journal of Immunology, but those results raised questions with another crystallographer and prompted an investigation by the university.  Schwarzenbacher admitted he’d committed misconduct, although he recanted at one point, and was eventually fired.

Now, the authors have retracted the crystallographic data from the Journal of Immunology paper. Here’s the partial retraction, which is listed as a correction:
Continue reading A partial retraction appears for former Salzburg crystallographer who admitted misconduct

“Unsolved legal reasons” cause retraction of two biophysics papers

eur biophys jEvery now and then, we see retraction notices that refer vaguely to legal issues. Sometimes, we can dig up the actual reason. But the European Biophysics Journal has two retractions that leave us completely in the dark.

The two notices basically say the same thing. Here’s one: Continue reading “Unsolved legal reasons” cause retraction of two biophysics papers

Protein structure retracted after investigation into “highly improbable features,” journal calls it fraud

In 2010, a group of crystallographers immunologists and allergy researchers at the University of Salzburg published a paper in the Journal of Immunology claiming to have derived the structure of a birch pollen allergen.

That structure, however, caught the attention of Bernhard Rupp, an eminent crystallographer. In January of this year, Rupp submitted a paper to Acta Crystallographica Section F pointing out problems with it, which prompted the editors of the crystallography journal to contact the authors of the original paper a month later. Those authors, it turns out, agreed with Rupp, they write in a response to his paper published in the April 2012 issue of Acta Crystallographica Section F: Continue reading Protein structure retracted after investigation into “highly improbable features,” journal calls it fraud