Why I don’t read science press releases…

…and you shouldn’t either. Larry Moran makes the catch.

The press release:

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College have made a discovery that once again forces us to rewrite our textbooks. This time, however, the findings pertain to RNA, which like DNA carries information about our genes and how they are expressed. The researchers have identified a novel base modification in RNA which they say will revolutionize our understanding of gene expression…Although mRNA was thought to contain only four nucleobases, their discovery shows that a fifth base, N6-methyladenosine (m6A), pervades the transcriptome.

Larry, as a textbook writer, is understandably skeptical of claims that we have to rewrite our textbooks. He digs back into the classic literature:

The most prevalent internal methylated nucleoside in eukaryotic mRNA is N6-methyladenosine (m6A). This modified nucleoside is found in RNAs of higher eukaryotic organisms (1-6), plants (7-9), and viruses (3, 10-12), and occurs at two specific sequences: Gpm6ApC and Apm6ApC (13-17).

In addition to being poorly written and blatantly wrong about context, the breathless reporting in press releases like this one damage trust science by contributing to the mistaken impression that it’s common in science to show that everything we ever thought we knew about X just wrong, wrong, wrong!

Author: Mike White

Genomes, Books, and Science Fiction

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