Nobel no more?

Science Digest 3-6-08

Nobel winner retracts her study


Linda Buck, now at Seattle‘s Fred Hutchinson

NEW YORK ”” A Nobel laureate and her co-authors on a 2001 paper on the sense of smell have retracted the study, saying they had discovered problems in the data and were unable to duplicate their findings.

Linda Buck, who is now at Seattle‘s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, shared the 2004 Nobel Prize in medicine for her work on smell, conducted when she worked at Harvard Medical School.

It was not immediately clear how important the retracted research, done in mice, was to the body of work that led to her Nobel.

Buck and her co-authors said that apart from being unable to reproduce the reported results, they’d found inconsistencies between the published 2001 paper and the original data on which it was based.

“We have therefore lost confidence in the reported conclusions,” they wrote in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

A Hutchinson spokeswoman said Buck wouldn’t comment because she feels the Nature article “summarizes the situation accurately.”

Nobel Winner Retracts Research Paper

Published: March 7, 2008

A team of scientists including Linda B. Buck, who shared the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, has retracted a scientific paper after the scientists could not reproduce their original findings.

Unraveling Enigma of Smell Wins Nobel for 2 Americans (October 5, 2004)

Retraction: Genetic Tracing Reveals a Stereotyped Sensory Map in the Olfactory Cortex (Nature)

Original Paper: Genetic Tracing Reveals a Stereotyped Sensory Map in the Olfactory Cortex (Nature)


The Harvard Medical School, where the researchers worked when the findings were published in the journal Nature in 2001, has begun a review of the research to determine if there is any evidence of misconduct.

In the paper, the researchers described how they produced genetically engineered mice that produced a plant protein in certain smell-related neurons. The researchers had claimed that as the plant protein traveled between neurons, they could map out which neurons in the cortex of the brain received information from which smell receptors in the nose.

In the retraction, published by Nature on Thursday, the researchers said, “Moreover, we have found inconsistencies between some of the figures and data published in the paper and the original data. We have therefore lost confidence in the reported conclusions.”

“It’s disappointing,” Dr. Buck, who is now at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, told the journal Nature in a news article about the retraction. “The important thing is to correct the literature.”

Randall Reed, a professor of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University, said the Nature paper generated considerable interest when it was published, but it was not central to the body of work that won Dr. Buck the Nobel Prize. “I think it more leaves an open hole about something we thought that maybe we had a glimpse of,” Dr. Reed said.

The paper’s lead author, Zhihua Zou, was a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Buck’s work and is described in the retraction as the source for the paper’s data and figures. Dr. Zou is now at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

In a statement, the medical branch said Dr. Zou is “disappointed” by the retraction but had agreed to it. “He is currently reviewing files and more than a thousand slides to assist in the review by Harvard University of the original experimental work,” the medical branch said. “Dr. Zou has not admitted any wrongdoing and remains confident in the conclusion made in the published paper. He is also confident that the experiments can be reproduced at the University of Texas Medical Branch.”

Dr. Buck has asked the cancer research center to review two later publications where Dr. Zou was also the lead author. Dr. Buck and Dr. Zou declined requests for interviews.

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