LONDON - A report claiming that scientists have created sperm-like cells from human embryonic stem cells has been retracted by a journal that published it three weeks ago, as it has attracted controversy.
Graham Parker, the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Stem Cells and Development, say that he took the he made this move on July 27 because two paragraphs in the introduction of the paper, entitled ‘In Vitro Derivation of Human Sperm from Embryonic Stem Cells’, had been plagiarised from a 2007 review published in another journal, Biology of Reproduction.
He says that the editors of Biology of Reproduction brought the plagiarism to his notice on July 10, three days after the article had been published online.
According to him, corresponding author Karim Nayernia of the North East England Stem Cell Institute in Newcastle, UK, and the University of Newcastle had failed to provide convincing evidence that the two paragraphs had been included in the submitted version of the manuscript by mistake.
Even critics of the paper, who had complained that the work had been over-hyped, have been surprised by the retraction.
“If there is nothing else behind this, it seems a little harsh,” Nature magazine quoted Harry Moore, co-director of the Centre for Stem Cell Biology at the University of Sheffield, UK, as saying.
It was claimed in the research article that sperm precursor cells could be derived from human embryonic stem cells in vitro, and that the derived cells could divide and generate cells with just one set of chromosomes, characteristic of sperm.
Even though the text of the article modestly refers to these as “sperm-like cells” with “tail-like structures”, its title and an accompanying press release referred baldly to human sperm.
“That raised hackles. With that claim the authors opened themselves to criticism, some of it unfair, because the paper did not in fact show that sperm had been derived,” says Moore.
Parker insisted that there were no other problems with the paper other than the copied paragraphs, but he and five other editors of his journal still decided that because the paper included “an act of scientific misconduct, retraction was the correct course of action in this instance.”
An official statement from the university holds the paper’s original first author, Jae Ho Lee, a postdoc who has since left the university, responsible for the plagiarism.
“No question has been raised about the science conducted or the conclusions of the research. The name of Dr Lee has been removed from the first authorship. The paper will now be submitted to another peer-reviewed academic journal,” according to the statement.
The statement also says that the “correct version of the manuscript, upon the request of the journal’s editor, had been immediately submitted to the journal during the process of proof reading”.
The paper had been published online ‘ahead of editing’ to avoid undue delay, with proofreading happening after publication to correct textual or copy-editing errors, explains Parker.
“But plagiarism can come to light at any point in the publishing process. Proofing isn’t a magical stage that allows authors to correct any inappropriate acts,” he says. (ANI)