In the November 26 issue of Science there's yet another retraction. This time it's from the group of Peter Schultz. For those who aren't in the know, Schultz has made a name for himself developing ways to trick the translational machinery into inserting non-natural residues into protein chains. The retracted paper (Science 303, 371 (2004)) dealt with the insertion of residues with an attached sugar, the idea being this could be used to study glycosylated proteins in a more controlled manner.
For those without access to Science, here's the retraction in full:
We wish to retract our Report (1) in which we report that β–N-acetylglucosamine-serine can be biosynthetically incorporated at a defined site in myoglobin in Escherichia coli. Regrettably, through no fault of the authors, the lab notebooks are no longer available to replicate the original experimental conditions, and we are unable to introduce this amino acid into myoglobin with the information and reagents currently in hand. We note that reagents and conditions for the incorporation of more than 50 amino acids described in other published work from the Schultz lab are available upon request.
Zhiwen Zhang,1 Jeff Gildersleeve,2 Yu-Ying Yang,3 Ran Xu,4 Joseph A. Loo,5 Sean Uryu,6 Chi-Huey Wong,7 Peter G. Schultz7,*
* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
1 The University of Texas at Austin, Division of Medicinal Chemistry, College of Pharmacy, Austin, TX 78712, USA.
2 Chemical Biology Section, National Cancer Institute, Frederick, MD 21702, USA.
3 Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10065, USA.
4 6330 Buffalo Speedway, Houston, TX 77005, USA.
5 Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095–1569, USA.
6 University of California, San Diego, CA 92121, USA.
7 The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.
1. Z. Zhang et al., Science 303, 371 (2004).
Let's break this down...
Regrettably, through no fault of the authors, the lab notebooks are no longer available to replicate the original experimental conditions...
Say what?!?!? You LOST the lab notebooks???? And it's not the fault of any of the authors???? Okay, I can imagine a number of circumstances where this could happen. A fire for example. But if it's something like that why not give the details???? I'm all for the assumption of innocence and all that, but come on, this smells worse than a bucket of shrimp in the sun.
...and we are unable to introduce this amino acid into myoglobin with the information and reagents currently in hand.
They can't reproduce their own experiments. Now call me old school, but I always go by that tried and true rule that the Materials and Methods section of a paper should contain enough detail that the experiments can be reproduced by someone else. Someone not in the lab that did the work. And the retracted article does have two pages of supplementary material, most of which is the Materials and Methods... But the lab (and presumably the authors) that originally did the work still can't reproduce it even with the combination of the lab's collective knowledge and memory plus the published Materials and Methods. Smell that bucket of shrimp yet?
We note that reagents and conditions for the incorporation of more than 50 amino acids described in other published work from the Schultz lab are available upon request.
We lose our lab notebooks and can't reproduce our own experiments, but everyone should still trust us...
I need to open a window or two.