Academic Publishing News Research integrity

Sally Assmann, right EiC choice for Plant Cell?

The Plant Cell is getting a new Editor-in-Chief, Sally Assmann. In a sense, she brings with her the necessary expertise in research integrity this journal sorely needs.

In my earlier post I asked a more or less rhetorical question: Did The Plant Cell learn from the Olivier Voinnet affair? The esteemed society journal, whose own editors published manipulated data, even in their own Plant Cell, so far refused all communication, the evidence of manipulated data I kept sending them was apparently not welcome. But the recent press release from 12 March 2019, announcing the appointment of Sally Assmann, plant electrophysiology researcher at Penn State University, USA, as new Editor-in-Chief, seems to have answered all concerns about The Plant Cell‘s stance on research integrity:

“The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) is very pleased to announce the appointment of Sarah M. (Sally) Assmann to be Editor-in-Chief of The Plant Cell beginning January 1, 2020. The Plant Cell publishes novel research of particular significance in plant biology, especially in the areas of cellular biology, molecular biology, genetics, development, and evolution. The Plant Cell, one of the top primary research journals in plant biology, was established in 1989. This year marks the journal’s 30th anniversary.

Assmann is the Waller Professor of Biology at Penn State University. Her research interests focus on how plants sense and respond to stresses associated with climate change, particularly drought and high temperature. She is the recipient of numerous awards and is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and ASPB. Her service to ASPB includes terms on the Publications Committee, Education Foundation Board of Directors, Public Affairs Committee, Board of Trustees, and Meetings and Events Advisory Board. Assmann is also a Founding Member of the ASPB Legacy Society. She was a co-editor of The Plant Cell from 1998 to 2014 and a monitoring editor of Plant Physiology from 1994 to 1997. Most notably, she served as President of ASPB from 2009 to 2010.

“Prof. Assmann has a distinguished history of service to ASPB and the plant science community,” said ASPB President Robert L. Last. “We are delighted that she has agreed to take the helm ofThe Plant Cell. As the scientific publishing landscape changes, we are confident that her visionary leadership and tireless dedication to the highest standards of scholarship will take the journal to new heights of excellence.”

Assmann said, “My vision for The Plant Cell is a journal that publishes the very best research in all fields of plant biology, and provides vital information in its front section and other resources to foster the success of plant biologists worldwide, in any field of employment and at all career stages.”

The press release doesn’t say much about Dr Assmann’s expertise in research integrity, so I will provide the evidence here.

Plant Cell

This interesting gel in Figure 5A, where the authors decided that the main findings of their paper will appear more conclusive if the a set of two samples was removed and replaced with an image of bands of two utterly different samples. The image had to be flipped horizontally to achieve the desired scientific result, which was published by Assmann lab 15 years ago in The Plant Cell, the journal she now takes charge of:

Sona Pandey, Sarah M. Assmann

The Arabidopsis Putative G Protein–Coupled Receptor GCR1 Interacts with the G Protein α Subunit GPA1 and Regulates Abscisic Acid Signaling

The Plant Cell (2004). DOI:

Sona Pandey is now group leader at the Danforth Plant Science Center, USA, which director James Carrington used to be the a close collaborator of Voinnet and the first to call for an in-depth investigation and retractions of Voinnet’s fraudulent papers. For some reason, Voinnet’s works in Science co-authored by Carrington were not affected, at least initially. One was retracted after additional evidence was released which made the earlier correction look silly. The other Science paper was found by the investigators to be utterly fraudulent and earmarked for a retraction, yet got away with a bizarre correction, and Carrington sure did not protest. This is basically the plant science ethics for you: all the chest beating until your own papers are affected, then suddenly the data manipulation never affected any of main conclusions (also see German plant scientists here and here). There are also examples for a much more commendable attitude, like this case from Voinnet’s former colleague at The Sainsbury Lab, or the recent announcement of a Plant Cell editorial board member to retract her own paper in eLife.

Anyway, the above Plant Cell publication with its fabricated gel has merely two authors, Pandey and Assmann, maybe it was some unnamed technician or long-forgotten intern who falsified the Figure 5A? This Pandey & Assmann paper in Cell also carries a duplication:

Cell fig 2

A picture of the same leaf stands for two different transgenic plants. For this to have happened by accident, the authors would have to have uncropped, flipped and then stretched the image horizontally, all without noticing. This is where the figure was published:

Sona Pandey, David C. Nelson and Sarah M. Assmann

Two Novel GPCR-Type G Proteins Are Abscisic Acid Receptors in Arabidopsis

Cell (2009); DOI:

The following apparent duplication of experimental datasets appeared in PNAS, without Pandey as coauthor:

PNAS Fig 4

Here, electrophysiological patch-clamp measurements look identical in some instances in the Figure 4, as highlighted by colour frames.

Liu-Min Fan, Wei Zhang, Jin-Gui Chen, J. Philip Taylor, Alan M. Jones, and Sarah M. Assmann

Abscisic acid regulation of guard-cell K+ and anion channels in Gβ- and RGS-deficient Arabidopsis lines

PNAS (2008) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0800980105

Maybe the authors were in a hurry and used same patch-clamp files twice, on two occasions. But the following figure in yet another paper from the Assmann lab cannot be explained by anything other than research misconduct:

Plant Phys Fig 1

Top panel shows the Figure 1B gel as it appeared in 2006 in the published paper, one detects merely a lane splicing event between 1d and 2d. The bottom panel is the forensic analysis, which shows the following:

  1. This is a Frankenstein gel, imbibed by fraud. It is stitched together in Photoshop from many pieces of different gels, several bits are duplicated.
  2. The four gel bands from 6h to 24 h were simply wiped out in Photoshop, using the eraser tool.
  3. We can see what band in the 6h lane used to originally look like because the same lane is shown in 1d.
  4. The two eraser-treated lanes 12h and 24h are actually identical.
  5. A fragment from the 12h lane was used to cover up something in lane 48h, probably undesired signal.
  6. Last two lanes (2d and 3D) are most obviously from a physically separate gel (or gels), who knows what they originally showed.

The first author here is again Pandey:

Sona Pandey, Jin-Gui Chen, Alan M. Jones, Sarah M. Assmann

G-Protein Complex Mutants Are Hypersensitive to Abscisic Acid Regulation of Germination and Postgermination Development

Plant Physiology (2006). DOI: 10.1104/pp.106.079038

The Editor-in-Chief of the journal Plant Physiology is University of Glasgow professor Michael Blatt, who is a big proponent of post-publication peer review and who supported the whistleblower Vicki Vance when other peers preferred to take cover or side with Voinnet against her. As reminder, Vance set off the Voinnet affair by telling of her own experience as Plant Cell reviewer, how she spotted the data manipulations and how Voinnet convinced the then-Editor-in-Chief Rich Jorgensen to dismiss Vance as reviewer.

The new Editor-in-Chief will decide about journal’s policies on research integrity of The Plant Cell. Is Assmann the right choice? Actually, what with the history of that journal, she probably is!

Update 21.10.2019

Today, Blake Meyers of Donald Danforth Plant Science Center was appointed as Editor-in-Chief on The Plant Cell, starting January 2020. See the press release here.


If you are interested to support my work, you can leave here a small tip of $5. Or several of small tips, just increase the amount as you like (2x=€10; 5x=€25). Your generous patronage of my journalism will be most appreciated!


6 comments on “Sally Assmann, right EiC choice for Plant Cell?

  1. Clearly the journal did learn from L’affaire Vionnet an important lesson in marketing: know your core demographic. JCI and JBC can publish real science with high standards, but there is certainly not enough of that to fill all the journals that currently exist, and the plant community probably could not support a single such journal from what I’ve seen. Plant Cell has found the ideal leader to continue their self-perpetuating crapfest fueled by agri-industry and governments eager to appear like they are doing something other than driving the global destruction of anything that does not fit into the sterile, monocultured wastelands that constitute the breadbaskets of the modern world.


  2. What this sad story shows once again is that not fixing issues early (I mean, like in 2004) leads to long term recurring problems. This can continue forever.


  3. Shame for plant sciences! The Plant Cell is supposed to be the best quality journal in its field. What is to be found is other journals? I hope a community effort is started to clean this mess.


  4. Pingback: Get a life with Gary Stacey – For Better Science

  5. The CL images in the Cell 136, fig 3 r also duplicated and reversed


Leave a Reply to owlbert Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: