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EthicsCaseStudyForm edit

Title Digitally enhanced images
Long Title Digitally enhanced images: increased clarity or manipulated data?
Contributor/Contact Dale J. Benos, PhD (benos@physiology.uab.edu)
Contributor Details Dale J. Benos, PhD
Chairman of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics
The University of Alabama at Birmingham
CTSA Alabama
Case Study Provided Authorís Submission of Data in Manuscript: An Editorís Perspective Ė Case Study 2

Sue and Tom, a postdoctoral fellow and a graduate student, respectively, work in a highly respected ion channel laboratory located in the Midwest. Together they are working on different aspects of a project involving the synthesis and surface expression of an ion channel subunit. Tom, the graduate student, is working on the electrophysiological aspects of the project while Sue, the postdoctoral fellow, is involved in the biochemical aspects of the project. This project constitutes Sueís main research thrust in the laboratory. Antibodies were synthesized against the subunit in question from synthetic pictures manufactured from a highly antigenic region deduced from a computer program from the subunitís primary amino acid sequence. These antibodies were used in immunoflorescence and immunoprecipitation experiments. When Sue and Tom were assembling the manuscript and preparing the figures, Sue decided to restrict the immunoprecipitated portions of the gel just to the subunit in particular. Tom agreed with this approach because of its frequent occurrence in the biomedical literature. Because this subunit is a part of a larger ion channel complex and ion channel proteins are very low abundant proteins in the cell, the immunoprecipitated band was very faint on the gel. Consequently, Sue enhanced this band to show more clearly its presence. Sue repeated this same experiment over 10 times on different batches of cells, so she was sure that the protein was there and felt that this digital enhancement was fair. Tom and the laboratory supervisor concurred. Similarly, in parallel immunoflorescence studies the digital enhancements of the figures were done to show more clearly the localization of this particular subunit, both intracellularly and at the surface of the membrane. Again, the experiment was repeated multiple times, with similar results. The enhancement was rationalized because the original micrographs did not reproduce the findings very well. Upon submission of the manuscript, the reviewers received the work with high enthusiasm. Several of the comments that were returned involved around the immunoprecipitation and immunoflorescence experiments. One reviewer wanted to see the entire lane of the gel because he (or she) was interested in knowing the specificity of the antibody. The second comment about the immunoflorescence experiments stated that the results were not as definitive as they should be, and so more experiments should be done to more clearly show the regions of interest and subcellular localization of the channel subunit.

In the revision process, Tom and Sue decided that the whole gel showing the entire lane of the immunoprecipitation experiments would reveal too many nonspecific proteins. In the 10 or so experiments that were done, the appearance of these bands were variable and with variable intensity. In the preparation of the revised figure, the background and some of the more minor bands were, in essence, digitally removed from the figure. Only some of the major bands that were consistent throughout all of the experiments were shown.

Likewise, another micrograph was chosen for the immunoflorescense experiments, with even further digital enhancement occurring. The manuscript was resubmitted and eventually accepted.
Data Acquisition, Management, Sharing and Ownership Topics No Data acquisition_management_sharing and ownership Topics
Mentor and Trainee Responsibilities Topics No mentor and trainee responsibilities topics
Publication Practices and Responsible Authorship Topics
Inappropriate authorship practices,
Poor publication practices
Peer Review Topics No peer review topics
Collaborative Science Topics No collaborative science topics
Research Misconduct Topics
Falsification
Conflicts of Interest, Law and Policy Topics No conflicts of interest_law_and policy topics
Human Subjects No human subjects
Citation Benos DJ. ORI Conference: Detecting Research Bias and Misconduct. September 14-15, 2006.
URL http://advan.physiology.org/cgi/content/full/29/2/59
RCR Keyword Research Misconduct, Lab Partners, Peer Review, Manuscript, Reviewer, Students, Post-doc
Other RCR Keywords Alter
Amino Acid Sequence
Antibody
Computer Program
Digital Enhancement
Electrophysiological
Figures
Immunoflorescence and Immunoprecipitation Experiments
ion channel Laboratory
Original Micrographs
Subunit
Case Difficulty Quick
Type of Case

Source for Topic Areas Du Bois, J., & Dueker, J. (2009). Teaching and Assessing the Responsible Conduct of Research: A Delphi Consensus Panel Report. Journal of Research Administration, 40(1), 49-70.
References

Other

Topic revision: r2 - 12 Nov 2011 - 16:40:06 - MarkYarborough
 
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