In a paper, published in PLOS ONE, Professor Byrne and colleague Dr Cyril Labbé of the University of Grenoble Alpes (France) detail 'Seek & Blastn', the fact-checking computer program they have developed and made freely available to researchers.
The program verifies the identities of published nucleotide sequence reagents (DNA and RNA constructs used to target genes) by seeking out sequences within papers and running them through a database holding the wealth of knowledge on genes to date.
Reagents - Ingredients - Results - Experiment - Reagents
"Biomedical reagents are like ingredients in cooking. You use them to discover your experimental results. Doing an experiment with wrong reagents either means that you cook something different from what you thought you were cooking, or what you cook is a failure," said Byrne, Professor of Medical Oncology in the Sydney Medical School.
"Unfortunately with experiments, failures are not always as obvious as they are in the kitchen. And here we are dealing with fundamental genetic research, and other researchers are using these failures as building blocks for their own work."
Cohort - Research - Papers - Fact-checker - Analysis
In a cohort of 155 research papers, the new fact-checker combined with manual analysis identified 25 per cent of papers as having sequence errors. The researchers were testing on a suspected group of the papers so while the figure doesn't reflect a baseline error rate, the numbers are still startling.
"That's quite a lot of wrong sequences in a small group of papers and there will be many more out there, unfortunately, given that nucleotide sequence reagents have been described in literally hundreds of thousands of biomedical publications," said Professor Byrne.
Researchers - Errors - Identity - Errors - Sequences
The researchers found that errors represented both identity errors (sequences which were completely incorrect) and typographic errors (sequences that...
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