Abbott, Alison. "Fraud Claim Puts German Rules to Test," Nature 392 (12 March 1998), p.
[MUNICH] A laboratory head and one of his technicians resigned last week from the Max
Planck Institute for Plant Breeding in Cologne, following accusations of scientific misconduct
involving the manipulation of experimental results. The laboratory in question works on the
hormonal control of cell division in plants.
The case is the first test of the Max Planck Society's new rules governing the investigation of
cases of scientific misconduct. The rules were approved by the society's senate late last year (see
Nature 390, 430; 1997).
The case came to light after other scientists at the institute became suspicious of the laboratory's
apparent success with a particular assay for protoplasts (cultured plant cells without their cell
walls) that could not be repeated by others. They reported their suspicions to the institute's
director in February.
Less than three weeks later, the institute has announced publicly - as required by the new rules -
that it is embarking on an internal investigation of the laboratory's work. At least one incident of
fraud in a published experiment has been confirmed, and the internal inquiry will examine earlier
According to the new rules, the names of the whistleblowers and the accused will not be
disclosed during the internal inquiry, which should be completed within four weeks. At that point
the institute director will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to ask the society for a
formal investigation by independent experts.