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RNA studies under fire

High-throughput RNA sequencing has yielded some unexpected results in the past few years — including some that seem to rewrite conventional wisdom in genetics. But a few of those findings are now being challenged, as computational biologists warn of the statistical pitfalls that can lurk in data-intensive studies.

The latest case centres on imprinted genes. Humans and most other animals inherit two copies of most genes, one from each parent. But in some cases, only one copy is expressed; the other copy is silenced. In such cases, the gene is described as being imprinted. In July 2010, a team led by Catherine Dulac and Christopher Gregg, both then at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, published a study1 in Science estimating that 1,300 mouse genes — an order of magnitude more than previously known — were imprinted.

Now, researchers are arguing that a flawed analysis led Dulac and Gregg to vastly over­estimate imprinting in their paper. “The reason this paper was published in Scienceis that they made this big claim that they saw an order-of-magnitude more genes that are imprinted, and I don’t think that’s true,” says Tomas Babak, a computational biologist at Stanford University in California, who challenged the study in a paper2 published on 29 March.

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