Chinese scholar retracts paper from Nature Biotechnology

A group led by Chinese scholar Chunyu Han has decided to retract their controversial paper about a new gene-editing technique, according to a retraction statement posted Wednesday on the website of the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Han, a scholar from Hebei University of Science and Technology, and his team published a paper in Nature Biotechnology last May. They reported that NgAgo could be used to locate and snip specific bits of DNA in laboratory-grown human cells, permanently disabling genes.

The paper claimed that NgAgo might be more efficient and versatile than the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique. But their paper soon attracted controversy.

In their latest statement, the authors said despite the efforts of many laboratories, an independent replication of the results in their paper has not been reported. “We are therefore retracting our initial report at this time to maintain the integrity of the scientific record.”

But the authors also said that they nevertheless continue to investigate the reasons for this lack of reproducibility with the aim of providing an optimized protocol.

Han’s paper has become a focal point in the academia and media following its publication. It was the most widely covered paper in China last year, according to media monitor Meltwater, with nearly 4,000 Chinese news stories citing the paper in just the first two months after its publication.

But the technique proposed in the paper soon attracted controversy. Initial complaints on social media that the research could not be replicated were followed by a series of peer-reviewed publications demonstrating the same. Some researchers used human cells as Han did, while others tried zebrafish or mouse cells.

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