Anti-GMO study quoted in Italian Senate retracted amidst data manipulation claims

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The retracted study focused on the transfer of GM-material to goat's offspring via the gut into the milk. (image:iStock.com)
The retracted study focused on the transfer of GM-material to goat's offspring via the gut into the milk. (image:iStock.com)

Related tags: Scientific method

A research paper that was referenced in an Italian government hearing on whether the country should allow GM cultivation is to be retracted after one of the authors was accused of falsifying research data.

The paper’s experimental results were referenced in an Italian Senate hearing last July on whether the country should allow cultivation of safety-approved GM crops.

Federico Infascelli, an animal nutrition researcher at the University of Naples is accused of manipulating images that suggest GMOs are harmful.

The retracted paper: “Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase Activity in Kids Born from Goats Fed Genetically Modified Soybean”​, demonstrated how modified genes could wind up in the blood and organs of baby goats whose mothers ate GM soybeans.

According to the retraction notice the paper, which appeared in the journal ‘Food and Nutrition Sciences,’ ​was withdrawn due to the investigation of complaints received against it.  

The data of the figure in question (1b) came from the previous published paper by Tudisco in 2010: “Fate  of transgenic DNA and evaluation of metabolic effects in goats fed genetically modified soybean and in their offsprings.” 

“The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and we treat all unethical behaviour such as plagiarism seriously.”

Senate suspicions 

wheat crop farming agriculture grain
The paper was mentioned during a Italian Senate hearing on whether the country should allow cultivation of safety-approved GM crops. (image: iStock.com)

According to Nature, Elena Cattaneo, a neuroscientist at the University of Milan, further scrutinised three more papers, as a result of the Senate hearing (Tudisco, R. et al, 2010​, Mastellone, V. et al. 2013​, and Tudisco, R. et al. 2015​). These papers all originated from the University of Naples, headed by Infascelli.

The papers all described how GM soya-beans were fed to goats, which then suckled their goat kids. Fragments of the foreign gene were then shown to transport across the gut into the milk, transferring the gene onto their offspring.

Cattaneo believed the images of electrophoresis gels had been doctored. In addition, some of the images that appeared in these papers were identical but were captioned to describe different experiments.

In June of 2015, Cattaneo had expressed concern of the quality of Infascelli’s research and had published an open letter​ to him about her concerns. She received no reply. Additional investigations by Cattaneo, and a growing number of petitions from scientists resulted in the 2013 paper being retracted by the journal.

Quoted in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica​, Infascelli refuted the allegations made against him, arguing that there was no substance to the claims. He insisted that he had consulted an expert about the papers, who agreed that no data manipulation had taken place.

Journal credibility

China_map_iStock_free
The journal's publisher, Scientific Research Publishing (SCIRP), is based in the Hubei Province of China. (image: iStock.com)

The credibility of the journal, Food and Nutrition Sciences​, and its publisher, Scientific Research Publishing (SCIRP), has also been called into question. The journal is not indexed by the NIH’s database of scientific publications, or Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

In October 2014, one of its journals ‘Advances in Anthropology​,’ was in the news after the entire editorial board resigned from their duties. Commenting on the website, ‘Scholarly Open Access​,’ Editor-in-Chief, Dr Fatimah Jackson, who confirmed the mass resignation said: “The editorial staff in China was unwilling to integrate the scholars on the Editorial Board into the decision-making process regarding the review, acceptance, and publication of articles. This was unacceptable. For them it was only about making money. We were simply their “front.”

Source:  Food and Nutrition Sciences

"Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase Activity in Kids Born from Goats Fed Genetically Modified Soybean"

Authors: Vincenzo Mastellone, Raffaella Tudisco, Giovanni Monastra, Maria Elena Pero, Serena Calabrò, Pietro Lombardi,Micaela Grossi, Monica Isabella Cutrignelli, Luigi Avallone, Federico Infascelli

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