A new chapter in the whole Arsenic Life story… yes, this is still going…

OK, so there’s a new chapter on the whole #arseniclife story. Redfield has deposited an article in arXiv (and submitted it to Science at the same time)  in which she challenges the original claim made by Wolfe-Simon et al1, which is, that there is a bacterium that can incorporate arsenate into its DNA.

This is how she puts it: “Our manuscript reporting the lack of arsenate in the DNA of arsenate-grown GFAJ-1 cells is now available on the arXiv server“.

Felisa Wolfe-Simon (Photo: ZUMA Press)

Notably, through an email, Wolfe-Simon now writes that she “never actually claimed that arsenate was being incorporated in GFAJ-1’s DNA”…. which is, to say the least, weird (just look at the article’s abstract!).  See Jonathan Eisen’s post about this.

I applaud the openness of the whole process (see Redfield’s blog), although I’ve always considered that Felicia Wolfe-Simon was treated badly in a somewhat unjustifiable way, and at first, the whole idea of going out of your way (when you don’t work directly in that field, see below) to do a series of experiments (and everything that it implies) to disprove a group (or to do the proper controls, however you want to see it), seemed curious to me, particularly when the funding agencies haven’t given you the money to perform that particular research (which is something she recently acknowledged). But I digress…

Regarding the harsh treatment that Wolfe-Simon has received…. what about all the other authors, all of which are responsible for the manuscript? Apparently, only Wolfe-Simon has been the target of all the criticism and she has stepped up to reply comments and give interviews (See also Redfield’s post about it)

Here’s Larry Moran’s take on this new chapter in the story of one of the most overhyped scientific articles of my time…

Larry Moran: The Arsenic Affair: No Arsenic in DNA!

In any case, I think the matter is far from solved and I’m sure Wolfe-Simon et al will find some problems with Redfield’s approach, which will make this whole story even longer… I’m quite tired of it if you ask me…

1 Wolfe-Simon et al (2010) A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus.Science 332(6034):1163-6

  1. #1 by walther loffenfeld on February 9, 2012 - 00:37

    By whom exactly was Felisa treated “in an unjustifiably way”? Maybe by “Times” or “Glamour” magazines? Wolfe-Simon have started to boast about her discovery despite she didn’t have any convincing proof in hands. And I haven’t seen any other name from the co-authors list (except maybe her boss) associated with this controversial discovery so closely. I think it’s a serious misconduct on her side to talk to public media before getting sufficient evidence of As presence in DNA. And now it’s time to pay for that. It’s fare.

  2. #2 by Alejandro Montenegro-Montero on February 9, 2012 - 00:58

    Dear Walter,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I’m saying she was treated unjustifiably *bad*, not that she didn’t deserve criticism. You can argue against someone’s results without being rude, which some people have.

    Now, when a manuscript is submitted, all authors are required to agree to the version being submitted. All authors, unless they express otherwise, should stand behind their paper if they think it was properly done. I haven’t heard from any other one (no idea why), which has made all the criticism land on W-S.

    Now, you say that it’s inappropriate for her to have talked to the media without getting sufficient evidence. That’s the thing. I think *they thought* the research was properly done (which we now know it apparently wasn’t). Now, what about Science editors and the ms reviewers? Shouldn’t they be criticized as well? (and they have…)

    I’m far from qualified to evaluate the science in the paper (we have Redfield for that), so I can’t comment on it, but from the series of accompanying articles, there appears to be several problems with the science behind the article, and as a consequence, the conclusions. Redfield’s new ms even contradicts a main point in the article!

    If those problems were *that* evident, then they should have been noticed before. Another case where the “magical” peer review, fails (see http://phylogenomics.blogspot.com/2012/02/stop-deifying-peer-review-of-journal.html).

    I don’t wanna come off as a W-S defender. I’m just saying that she is not the only one to “blame” here. Researchers, editors, media, etc.

  3. #3 by Alejandro Montenegro-Montero on February 9, 2012 - 01:05

    Here’s some of the criticism I was talking about, towards the authors… http://phylogenomics.blogspot.com/2010/12/nasa-arsenic-story-lets-lay-off.html

  1. Debating about peer review « The MolBio Hut

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