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Susana Rivas: a new research integrity scandal in French plant sciences

Susana Rivas, a CNRS research group leader from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Toulouse is now at the epicenter of a new research integrity scandal in plant sciences. In the last two years, France was shaken by the Olivier Voinnet scandal, when their former star researcher was found guilty of data manipulation throughout his entire career, from his PhD at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK, over his position of many years as research director at CNRS plant science institute in Strasbourg up to his current professorship at the ETH Zürich in Switzerland. Before she became CNRS group leader in 2003, the Spanish plant scientist Rivas worked as postdoc at The Sainsbury Laboratory, in the lab of Jonathan Jones, at around the same time when Voinnet was finishing his PhD there under David Baulcombe. Now, Jones retracted a paper authored by Rivas from the journal The Plant Cell, he also requested the retraction of another paper from his lab with Rivas as first author, in The Plant Journal. Meanwhile, I share here new evidence of suspected data manipulations from Rivas’ own lab in Toulouse, in her 5 publications which include PNAS, PLOS One, The Plant Cell and Nature Communications.

The evidence below was forwarded to me by a reader of my site after I announced the Jones retraction on Twitter (which was in turn originally reported on PubPeer).

This was the retracted paper:

Susana Rivas, Tina Romeis, and Jonathan D. G. Jones. (2002). The Cf-9 Disease Resistance Protein Is Present in an ∼420-Kilodalton Heteromultimeric Membrane-Associated Complex at One Molecule per Complex. Plant Cell 14: 689-702. doi: 10.1105/tpc.010357.

The paper had not been flagged for anything suspicious on Pubpeer before. Jones apparently investigated his own research publications in the wake of the Voinnet scandal (he had to issue a correction to a collaborative paper due to PubPeer-reported Voinnet manipulations, Navarro et al 2006). The retraction notice for Rivas et al 2002 appeared in The Plant Cell on February 23rd 2017:

The authors of the above article request that it be retracted from The Plant Cell, because it contains a substantial number of inappropriate image manipulations. These manipulations consist of the reuse or duplication of images, both within the above article and with another manuscript published contemporaneously in The Plant Journal [Rivas, S., Mucyn, T., Van Den Burg, H. A., Vervoort, J. and Jones, J. D. G. (2002), An ∼400 kDa membrane-associated complex that contains one molecule of the resistance protein Cf-4. The Plant Journal. 29: 783–796. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-313X.2002.01254.x].

Specific problems with the manuscripts include:

  1. There are duplications of immunoblot bands in The Plant Cell Figure 3 row 3, The Plant Cell Figure 4A row 1, The Plant Cell Figure 4C, and The Plant Journal Figure 4C.
  2. The Plant Cell Figure 4B Cf-9 c-myc band is duplicated in The Plant Cell Figure 4C Cf-9:TAP band under the 475 kDa marker.
  3. The Plant Cell Figure 4A row 2 is duplicated in The Plant Journal Figure 4A row 3.
  4. The Plant Cell Figure 6B: Panel B left side and Panel E are duplicated.
  5. The Plant Cell Figure 6 Panel C, 90 min and Panel D, 0 and 90 min are duplicated.
  6. The Plant Cell Figure 7C is identical to The Plant Journal Figure 7C.
  7. The Plant Cell Figure 7B lanes 1&2 is duplicated in The Plant Journal Figure 7B lanes 1&2 and lanes 4&5.

All authors agree to this retraction.

The Plant Journal publication mentioned in the notice is apparently be about to be retracted soon, following Jones’ request to the editor. The British professor, who initiated both retractions, commented in an email to me:

“Many of the duplications are between the two papers and they render both untrustworthy”

The upcoming loss of The Plant Journal paper will be Rivas third retraction [Update 29.04.2017: a retraction for Rivas et al Plant J 2002 was published, because of “a substantial number of inappropriate image manipulations. These manipulations consist of the reuse or duplication of images, both within the above article and with another manuscript published previously in The Plant Cell (Rivas et al., 2002b)“] .

Prior to this, she had to retract a paper she co-authored with Voinnet and Baulcombe, namely Voinnet et al 2003. The paper was initially corrected in June 2015 where manipulated data was simply replaced. After further evidence emerged on PubPeer, a retraction came in November 2015. According to Retraction Watch, that paper was cited over 900 times, and Baulcombe assigned the sole responsibility for the data manipulations to his former PhD student Voinnet. However, in view of the recent Rivas retraction (and her second upcoming one) and especially of the evidence below, one has to wonder if Voinnet had the entire blame placed upon himself unfairly. Rivas, back then the paradigm of innocence, commented to me in an email from January 2015, when the PubPeer evidence against Voinnet et al 2003 first appeared:

“Regarding the paper that you mention, I have no reason to think that there is anything untoward in this publication. I am fully confident that the published findings are correct”.

Is there anything untoward in her own publications, as postdoc and group leader? It certainly appears so. It is not clear how CNRS and INRA will react to it though. Data integrity does not seem to be a major concern for those in charge of French plant sciences: not just CNRS researchers, but even those independent peers tasked with their evaluation are not always free from sin in this regard (see this report). Voinnet’s main partner in data manipulation, Patrice Dunoyer, still leads a lab at the CNRS institute in Strasbourg, even Voinnet himself is not entirely persona non grata there (most recent Voinnet/Dunoyer retraction and correction list here). On the other hand, I have no way to make inquiries, since CNRS put me on a communications black list and instructed all its employees never to reply to me.

The only common name on the 5 papers below and the two Jones lab publications is that of Susana Rivas, the CNRS/INRA group leader and recipient of the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche–Jeunes Chercheurs grant. The evidence against the published works of this scientist strongly  suggests image duplications across different publications, gel band and gel background fragment duplications, inappropriate digital image manipulation and splicing.

Evidence of suspected data manipulations in publications from Susana Rivas lab at CNRS/INRA in Toulouse (full dossier here):

“Detection and functional characterization of a 215 amino acid N-terminal extension in the Xanthomonas type III effector XopD”.

Joanne Canonne, Daniel Marino, Laurent D Noël, Ignacio Arechaga, Carole Pichereaux, Michel Rossignol, Dominique Roby, Susana Rivas, PLoS ONE, 5 (2010) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015773


“AtsPLA2-alpha nuclear relocalization by the Arabidopsis transcription factor AtMYB30 leads to repression of the plant defense response”

Solène Froidure, Joanne Canonne, Xavier Daniel, Alain Jauneau, Christian Brière, Dominique Roby, Susana Rivas, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 107 (2010) doi: 10.1073/pnas.1009056107


“Expression of the Arabidopsis transcription factor AtMYB30 is post-transcriptionally regulated”

Solène Froidure, Dominique Roby, Susana Rivas, Plant Physiol. Biochem., 48 (2010) doi: 10.1016/j.plaphy.2010.04.012


“The Xanthomonas type III effector XopD targets the Arabidopsis transcription factor MYB30 to suppress plant defense”

Joanne Canonne, Daniel Marino, Alain Jauneau, Cécile Pouzet, Christian Brière, Dominique Roby, Susana Rivas, Plant Cell, 23 (2011) doi: 10.1105/tpc.111.088815


“Arabidopsis ubiquitin ligase MIEL1 mediates degradation of the transcription factor MYB30 weakening plant defence”

Daniel Marino, Solène Froidure, Joanne Canonne, Sara Ben Khaled, Mehdi Khafif, Cécile Pouzet, Alain Jauneau, Dominique Roby, Susana Rivas, Nature Communications (2013). doi: 10.1038/ncomms2479 



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16 comments on “Susana Rivas: a new research integrity scandal in French plant sciences

  1. A reader alerted me of this western blot duplication in a Rivas-coauthored paper:
    AtSERPIN1 is an inhibitor of the metacaspase AtMC1-mediated cell death and autocatalytic processing in planta
    Saul Lema Asqui, Dominique Vercammen, Irene Serrano, Marc Valls, Susana Rivas, Frank van Breusegem, Frank L. Conlon, Jeffery L. Dangl, Núria S. Coll
    First published: 3 February 2017 DOI: 10.1111/nph.14446
    Fig. 6 a and b: same anti-GFP western blot re-used in different context, stretched & cropped


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  4. Nuria S. Coll

    We thank the anonymous peer who flagged this issue. We are working on a correction to this obvious, but inadvertent error, that we will soon post to Pub Peer. Importantly, please note that Dr. Rivas had nothing to do with experiments giving rise to this figure or to its preparation.
    Nuria S. Coll


  5. Dear Nuria, don’t you think it would be more transparent to reveal the identity of the person who is responsible for the “inadvertent error” than a nebulous state about a certain person who had nothing to do with it?


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