Science - February 27, 2014

Utrecht biologist goes astray

Rob Ramaker,Albert Sikkema

A Utrecht plant biologist manipulated images in four of his publications in Cell and Nature and other journals. The University of Utrecht made this known last week. Wageningen researcher Ben Scheres collaborated on one of the articles.

The fraud was committed by Pankaj Dhonuksche, who was either first or last author of all the articles concerned. His fraud con­sisted of manipulating images in a way that altered their significance. Dhonuksche denies that there is any question of academic fraud and manipulation of data.

The investigation also established that the co-authors are free of blame. Ben Scheres is satisfied with the procedure that was followed. ‘This is very upsetting but it is the only option open to us as scientists when irregularities are discovered. We must keep our professional field clean.’

Dhonuksche graduated from Wageningen as a molecular biologist and worked in Ben Scheres’s group at the University of Utrecht until 2012. So Utrecht launched the investigation into publications by Dhonuksche during that period. Scheres transferred from Utrecht to Wageningen last year, with some members of his group. By then, Dhonuksche was already working at the University of Ghent, which broke his contract in 2013.