23 December 2006

A Scientist's Nightmare: Software Problem Leads to Five Retractions -- Science

Computer bugs mess up membrane protein structures... Could this have been seen ahead of time? (Also note use of Google scholar by Science to find citations.)

Until recently, Geoffrey Chang's career was on a trajectory most young scientists only dream about. ...His lab generated a stream of high-profile papers detailing the molecular structures of important proteins embedded in cell membranes....Then the dream turned into a nightmare. In September, Swiss researchers published a paper in Nature that cast serious doubt on a protein structure Chang's group had described in a 2001 Science paper. When he investigated, Chang was horrified to discover that a homemade data-analysis program had flipped two columns of data, inverting the electron-density map from which his team had derived the final protein structure. Unfortunately, his group had used the program to analyze data for other proteins. As a result, on page 1875, Chang and his colleagues retract three Science papers and report that two papers in other journals also contain erroneous structures....Chang's MsbA structure was the first molecular portrait of an entire ABC transporter, and many researchers saw it as a major contribution toward figuring out how these crucial proteins do their jobs. That paper alone has been cited by 364 publications, according to Google Scholar.