WASHINGTON--The discovery that a graduate student had apparently faked some data in papers co-authored by the director of the genome program has cast doubt on recent research concerned with a chromosomal aberration linked to leukemia, says a News report  in the 8 November issue of Science.
Last week, Francis Collins, director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, spoke publicly about false data that had turned up in an unpublished manuscript and a paper co-authored by himself and a former member of his lab at NCHGR. The work centers on an oddity in which the center of chromosome 16 is rotated 180 degrees with respect to the ends. Inverted 16, as it's known, has been linked to 15% of acute myeloid leukemia cases.
In 1993, before the grad student--who has been identified as Amitav Hajra--became deeply involved in this project, another colleague of Collins's, P. Paul Liu, identified a ``fusion'' gene on the long arm of 16 formed by the inversion. It consists of two normally distant pieces: one gene involved in DNA transcription, called core binding factor beta, and another that produces a smooth muscle protein. The link to leukemia, the gene cloning, and data on the protein it creates--all reported in a paper (Science, 20 August 1993, p. 1041) with Hajra as a co-author--are ``absolutely, unequivocally right,'' says Collins: ``None of that is in question, not even the slightest bit.''
The bad data, says Collins, are found in subsequent reports on the detailed structure and function of the abnormal gene. Much of that work, published in 1995 and 1996, has been discarded and will be redone. Most disturbing, perhaps, the student's data showing that the gene causes cancerous growth when expressed in mouse fibroblast cells is now in question. This important result must be reconfirmed.
A new paper authored by Liu, in press at Cell, may dispel some of the uncertainty about the fusion gene's function. Liu declines to discuss it, citing Cell's strict embargo policy. But others who have seen the data say that Liu's paper shows that the fusion gene, when put into a knock-in mouse and expressed at a high level, doesn't make blood cells cancerous; it kills them. It may, perhaps, cause cancer when expressed at low levels.