Cassava, the starchy root vegetable that serves as a dietary staple to millions of people around the world, has not gotten even better, as reported last January by Claude Fauquet of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and colleagues. The PLOS ONE study—which described a genetically modified cassava plant that expressed the zeolin gene for a nutritional protein—has been retracted, Retraction Watch reported.
“The authors have been unable to confirm the presence of the zeolin gene within the transgenic cassava plants in several subsequent studies,” the retraction notice read. “Additionally, the Committee on Research Integrity at Donald Danforth Plant Science Center has carried out an institutional investigation which revealed that significant amounts of data and supporting documentation that were claimed to be produced by the first author could not be found.”
The study, which has been cited five times, according to ISI, was part of a Gates Foundation-funded program aimed at developing more nutritious cassava crops. Fauquet first learned of the problems shortly after publication, as his lab tried to replicate the results, and brought them to the attention of Danforth president James Carrington. Specifically, the genes for two zeolin proteins did not appear to be expressed, as had been reported in the paper.
“The transgenic plants that were supposed to contain those transgenes, plants labeled as such, did not contain what those plasmids were supposed to contain,” Carrington told Retraction Watch. “In the re-analysis, both the plasmids and the transgenic materials were found to be lacking the key genes.”
The internal investigation “could not come to conclusive proof about how the data were generated,” Carrington added, but he did note that first author Mohammad Abhary had already left the Danforth Center by the time any questions arose, and the institution is continuing to look into Abhary’s work. “I cannot say there will never be any revelations in the future related to things during his time in the Fauquet lab.”
(Hat tip to GenomeWeb.)