“Eek!” was the cry from all concerned when scientists discovered that a study they had published was undermined by one tiny mistake: they had ordered the wrong mice for a key experiment.
The immunologists, from the laboratory of Cliff Snapper at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences at Bethesda, Maryland, have this month retracted the resulting 2006 paper from The Journal of Immunology.
The retraction notice states that the researchers’ concerns were raised when they were unable to reproduce a crucial experiment. Investigations revealed that they had ordered the wrong strain of transgenic mice for use in the original experiment.
Professor Snapper described the disavowal to the Retraction Watch website as “a painful experience, but absolutely necessary”.
He explained to Times Higher Education that the mice had been ordered by Quanyi Chen, the paper’s first author and a longstanding and “very responsible” research associate at the lab.
“She is the one who pointed out her mistake to me. It is clear to me that she made an unintentional mistake that, unfortunately, was central to the conclusion of the paper,” he said.
Professor Snapper added that he had been thinking about what lessons he should learn from the situation, but had ruled out personally checking every mouse order.
“I have 10 members in my group who order numerous reagents and mouse strains on a regular basis and use them to perform many detailed experiments,” he said.
“Although I am careful to evaluate all the raw and processed data generated from the experiments, I have concluded that it is not practical to double-check every single item ordered and personally watch how they are used.”
However, in future, “when my lab members order new mutant mouse strains or any unusual reagent we have not previously ordered, I will personally double-check the relevant data sheet provided by the vendor”, Professor Snapper said.