It took about five months, but a virology journal has retracted a paper on the microbe that causes COVID-19 after tagging it with an expression of concern back in December.
As we reported then, the paper, “SARS–CoV–2 Spike Impairs DNA Damage Repair and Inhibits V(D)J Recombination In Vitro,” was a hit with vaccine skeptics who used the article to buttress their claims that Covid vaccines are unsafe.
The paper, which appeared in MDPI’s Viruses, generated enough buzz on social media and in the news to make it into the top 5% of all articles tracked by Altmetric. This Week in Virology, a podcast on, well, virology, devoted part of an episode of the show to deconstructing the findings.
But as the journal noted last year:
One of the authors has raised concerns regarding the methodology employed in the study, the conclusions drawn and the insufficient consideration of laboratory staff and resources.
In order to keep the highest scientific standards, an in-depth investigation is initiated by the responsible editors together with the journal’s editorial office in collaboration with the editorial board, and in accordance with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidance. The article will be updated and any necessary corrections made at the conclusion of the investigation process.
That update has arrived:
The published article  has been retracted. Following publication, the first author contacted the editorial office regarding an improper experimental design with the potential to significantly affect the integrity of the resultant experimental data.
Adhering to our complaint procedure, an investigation was conducted. Both the chosen construct of the spike plasmid that contained a C-terminal fused with 6xHis tag and use of a GFP reporter system under overexpression conditions in the protocol were identified as having the potential to introduce significant ambiguity regarding the nature of the reported observations. The reliability of the results and conclusions presented have therefore been undermined. Furthermore, statements regarding the effect of the spike protein on the adaptive immunity are misleading as in this article no experiments related to the adaptive immunity were performed, and the full-length spike-based vaccine was not studied. Therefore, conclusions related to vaccine safety are not validated and lacked experimental support. This article  is retracted and shall be marked accordingly. This retraction was approved by the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Viruses.
The authors did not immediately respond to a request for comment. [See update at the end of the post.]
The paper has been cited seven times, including at least twice since the appearance of the expression of concern, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.
That makes 226 retractions of COVID-19 papers by our count.
Update, 5/13/22, 1230 UTC: Co-author Ya-Fang Mei tells us he “absolutely” disagrees with the retraction
due to false information in the reasons for retraction. In our original article, 6-Histaged Spike at nucleus and cytoplasm and nucleoprotein at cytoplasm. If 6-histag affect the localization, the nucleoprotein should be also in nucleus. Consequently, 6-histag don’t affect the nuclear localization.
If the 6-His tag would cause nuclear localisation, hundreds of papers would be wrong on protein biology, and they would be retracted before our article. Thus, this retraction reason is indeed ridiculous.
I am expecting the reviewers in Editorial board will be getting stronger in their perspectives and knowledge.
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