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Editorial concern over controversial longevity study

The editor-in-chief of the journal Science has expressed concern about a study that found links between certain DNA sequence variations and extreme longevity. The results were used to devise a test that could, according to the authors, determine whether a person is genetically inclined to live 100 years or longer.

Shortly after Science published the paper in July, some geneticists protested that the authors had mixed different experimental platforms but neglected to do the necessary controls to ensure that results were comparable across those platforms. (See ‘Longevity paper sparks debate’ for more about the controversy.)

Science and the authors are taking these concerns seriously,” wrote editor-in-chief Bruce Alberts in an ‘Editorial expression of concern’ that was published in the journal today. The authors of the study, including lead investigators Paola Sebastiani and Tom Perls of the Boston University Schools of Public Health and Medicine, are now conducting “a thorough quality-control analysis” on the original data, and generating additional data to compare results across platforms, Alberts wrote. The team is also verifying its results using alternative methods.

Those steps should be complete, and the data analysis redone, by December. “At that point, Science will re-evaluate the paper, determine the extent to which the strength of its original conclusions has been altered by the revised data, and take the appropriate action,” Alberts wrote.

David Goldstein, a geneticist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina who had earlier raised concerns about the work, says Alberts’ letter “got it exactly right”, and praised Science for responding quickly to the controversy.

Meanwhile, Boston University released the following statement on behalf of Sebastiani and Perls: “With a final cleaned set of data, we are performing the same model construction and data analysis that is described in the Science paper. So far the analysis is very encouraging.”

Unfortunately, this seems unlikely to end the debate about this paper: several critics have raised questions about the team’s data analysis methods as well.


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