Contamination blamed in STAP stem cell debacle | Science News

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Contamination blamed in STAP stem cell debacle

Investigation finds new form of flexible cells were really embryonic stem cells

8:30pm, December 29, 2014
Mouse embryo

Researchers who claimed to have grown a mouse fetus from stem cells made in acid baths were actually working with embryonic stem cells, an investigation finds.

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The discredited stem cells known as STAP cells were ultraflexible because they were really embryonic stem cells, a new report contends.

Last January, researchers claimed in two papers published in Nature that they had made stem cells by briefly dipping adult cells in a dilute acid bath or by giving the cells a squeeze (SN: 2/22/14, p. 6). The research was soon called into question, and an investigation by RIKEN, the Japanese research institute where much of the work was done, found lead author Haruko Obokata guilty of manipulating images and plagiarizing parts of the text. The papers were retracted in July (SN: 7/26/14, p. 7).

After months of failing to replicate her work, Obokata resigned and RIKEN said it would cease efforts to re-create the cells.

On December 26, RIKEN issued a report saying that what the researchers claimed were STAP cells were really embryonic stem cells contaminating the lab dishes. The contamination probably wasn’t accidental, but exactly who was responsible for it could not be determined. The investigators found Obokata guilty of two more counts of misconduct for fabricating data.

The report may close the book on a year-long saga that has marred stem cell science (SN: 12/27/14, p. 25).


Summary report on STAP cell research paper investigation II. RIKEN report. December 26, 2014.

Report from committee investigating STAP papers. RIKEN Institute, December 26, 2014.

J. Gallagher. Stem cell scandal scientist Haruko Obokata resigns. BBC News Health, December 19, 2014.

RIKEN, Obokata fail to produce STAP cells. The Yomiuri Shimbun. December 19, 2014.

Further Reading

T. H. Saey. A little acid or a tight squeeze can turn a cell stemlike. Science News. Vol. 185, February 22, 2014, p. 6.

T. H. Saey. Dramatic retraction adds to questions about stem cell research. Science News. Vol. 186, July 26, 2014, p. 7.

T. H. Saey. Year in review: Easy stem cells a no go. Science News. Vol. 186, December 27, 2014, p. 25.

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