Jour­nal urges its read­ers not to cite pro­fes­sor’s gene pa­per

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By CHENG YINGQI chengy­ingqi @chi­nadaily.com.cn

Sci­en­tific jour­nal Na­ture Biotech­nol­ogy pub­lished a state­ment onMon­day urg­ing read­ers not to cite a pa­per it pub­lished in May by Chi­nese scholar Han Chunyu on the next-gen­er­a­tion gene-edit­ing tool NgAgo.

Han, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor atHe­beiUniver­sity of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, im­pressed life sci­en­tists across the globe when he an­nounced his dis­cov­ery of NgAgo, which he said is more ef­fi­cient than the widely used CRISPR/Cas9 ap­proach, also known as the “molec­u­lar Swiss armyknife”.

How­ever, sci­en­tists from home­and abroad soon be­gan to re­port fail­ures in re­pro­duc­ingHan’s ex­per­i­ment.

An aca­demic de­bate es­ca­lated into a bat­tle of words in the mass me­dia. Han in­sisted that he was able to re­run the ex­per­i­ment and re­pro­duce the re­sults in his own lab­o­ra­tory, but he re­fused to re­peat it in an in­de­pen­dent lab. Ob­jec­tors then asked He­bei Uni­ver­sity of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy to open an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the pos­si­bil­ity of aca­demic mis­con­duct.

Na­ture Biotechn o logy pub­lished an Editorial Ex­pres­sion of Con­cern to­gether with cor­re­spon­dence from three other groups who re­ported fail­ures in re­peat­ingHan’s ex­per­i­ment.

“Na­ture Biotech­nol­ogy be­lieves that it is im­por­tant for au­thors to be able to in­ves­ti­gate the con­cerns raised by such cor­re­spon­dence, and to pro­vide ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion and ev­i­dence to sup­port their pa­per, if they are able to do so. Thus, we will con­tinue to li­aise with the au­thors of the orig­i­nal pa­per to pro­vide them with the op­por­tu­nity to do that by Jan­uary 2017,” the Editorial Ex­pres­sion of Con­cern said.

Ma­jor sci­en­tific jour­nals, in­clud­ing Sci­ence and PNAS, have a tra­di­tion of pub­lish­ing an Editorial Ex­pres­sion of Con­cern over aca­demic dis­putes, said Rao Yi, a re­searcher at the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Bi­o­log­i­cal Sciences on Zhihu, a Chi­nese on­line ques­tio­nand­plat­form.

Gao Fu, an aca­demi­cian and pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute of Mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy af­fil­i­ated to the Chi­nese Academy of Sciences, sug­gested an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into NgAgo tech­nol­ogy to as­sess the pos­si­bil­ity of al­leged aca­demic mis­con­duct.

“The goal of sci­en­tific re­search is to search for sin­gu­lar­ity, so it is not un­usual if a sci­en­tist makes mis­takes. On this oc­ca­sion, we should help Han to find out where the prob­lem lies,” Gao said.

“How­ever, pub­lic at­ten­tion has been fo­cused on whether Han­in­tended to mis­lead peo­ple. If that is the case, it would be con­sid­ered aca­demic mis­con­duct, which is a moral is­sue.”

Two au­thors of the orig­i­nal pa­per, Han and Shen Xiao, agree with Na­ture Biotech­nol­ogy’s Editorial Ex­pres­sion of Con­cern, whereas three oth­ers au­thors of the pa­per— Gao Feng, Jiang Feng andWu Yongqiang — be­lieve it to be in­ap­pro­pri­ate, the jour­nal said in its state­ment. Li Lei con­trib­uted to this story.

Han Chunyu

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