Inquiry granted for Nature paper conflict

A Duke biochemist remains at the center of controversy in the scientific community for allegedly misplacing blame on his former student regarding the retraction of two papers from Science and the Journal of Molecular Biology in February.

Homme Hellinga, James B. Duke professor of biochemistry, has been granted a formal and impartial investigation by Duke University Medical Center into the papers and surrounding controversy. He was criticized by the journal Nature for blaming Mary Dwyer, his former graduate student, for the falsified results in the papers.

"I have acknowledged, and will continue to acknowledge, my personal responsibility to the scientific community for these errors as well as my responsibility as a research supervisor to these students," Hellinga wrote in a July 24 letter to Nature announcing the inquiry.

Dwyer was working under Hellinga on a rational enzyme design project and was given lead authorship on one of the papers. Dwyer told Nature in May, however, that she thought publishing the first paper at that time in 2004 was premature, but Hellinga denied that he had pushed her to publish and accused her of faking data.

The University conducted an inquiry into Dwyer's work and cleared her of all allegations of misconduct in February. Medical Center officials declined to comment on the specifics of the Hellinga inquiry because of confidentiality restrictions.

"Duke is committed to nurturing and supporting the highest quality science, and we review all allegations concerning research integrity according to established procedures," said Douglas Stokke, assistant vice president of Duke University Health System.

Hellinga and Dwyer could not be immediately reached for comment.

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