Sleuthing sheds light on STAP cell fiasco

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Science  25 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6255, pp. 1430-1431
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6255.1430

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Stressed-out cells sometimes glow under certain wavelengths light. That phenomenon, a common problem for researchers using fluorescent microscopy, may be at the root of last year's sensational claims surrounding STAP cells, the supposedly powerful stem cells derived using a remarkably simple recipe. The STAP claims have been shown to be false, and the two Nature papers describing the cells have both been retracted. Now, researchers from seven labs have described what they saw when they tried to replicate the experiments in the weeks and months following the original publications. All report observations that may have misled the researchers who made the original claims, including cells that glow, faintly, under key wavelengts light. The STAP team took this for evidence that key stem cell genes had been turned on, but more cautious researchers would have realized the glow was an artifact, the authors of the new paper say. To avoid a repeat of the STAP fiasco, leading stem cell scientists lay out criteria in another paper for future claims about new ways to derive stem cells. They suggest a range of tests that should help protect against both misleading assays and cell line contamination; before they publish, researchers should also demonstrate that the technique can be replicated in independent laboratories.

  • With reporting by Dennis Normile.