An interesting tidbit about Mark Geier

In the light of recently discovered possible chicanery on the part of Mark Geier and his dubious IRB, I found this report by John Leavitt very interesting:

My interest in inserting bacterial genes into mammalian cells stemmed from a paper published in Nature in 1971 by NIH scientists, Carl Merril, Mark Geier, and John Petricciani, entitled “Bacterial Virus Gene Expression in Human Cells.” (Nature 233:398-400). Merril and colleagues presented experiments that claimed to show that a bacterial gene encoding galactosyltransferase, transduced into a bacteriophage DNA molecule, could be ‘transfected’ into human fibroblasts taken from patients with the genetic disease, galactosemia. In otherwords, the authors claimed to have repaired a human genetic defect with a bacterial gene – the only kind of gene that could be isolated at that time. Their initial manuscript was rejected by Nature because the reviewers needed direct evidence that the bacteriophage gene was actually transcribed within mammalian cells. Mark Geier, a latecomer in Merril’s lab saw the prospect of getting his name on an important paper by performing this experiment – not an easy experiment to perform in those days. Nevertheless, Geier quickly produced RNA hybridization experiments that demonstrated that the bacterial transcripts of the galactosyltransferase gene were being synthesized. This experiment was added to the Nature manuscript naively by Merril, the manuscript was resubmitted, and then published by Nature. The publication of this paper made national news. Since this came from NIH (National Institute of Mental Health) just up the street from the White House, President Nixon took notice and awarded Carl Merril with a small presidential grant to help fund his laboratory. There was wide skepticism about this work among scientists in the field and the experiments in this paper were never reproduced although numerous labs tried. In 1976, in my final days in the Ts’o lab, I struck up a short collaboration with Carl Merril, who later became a longtime friend and productive investigator at NIH. Together we devised a rigorous experiment to determine if bacterial genes could be expressed in mammalian cells using the same type of approach taken later by Paul Berg – but without an essential recombinant mammalian gene promoter driving the expression of the bacterial gpt gene. We found no evidence of expression of the bacterial gene although we did find rare genetic revertants of the mutant mouse hprt gene already present in the cell. This more positive story was published much to Merril’s chagrin by Leavitt and Milman in Experimental Cell Research (123:402-406, 1979).

Yes, it’s the same Dr. Mark Geier, who, according to his CV, was at the NIH from 1969-1978, and this seems to be the paper to which the entry above refers. I don’t know if the charge above is true or not, and inability to reproduce an experiment does not always indicate fraud. (Indeed, for a while back in 1998-1999, when the angiogenesis inhibitors angiostatin and endostatin were being touted as new “cures” for cancer, many complaints were made that the work of one of my research heroes, Judah Folkman, couldn’t be reproduced in other labs. However, ultimately, it turned out that this problem was due to subtle factors that weren’t always apparent in the paper, and Dr. Folkman was always willing to help researchers who were having difficulty reproducing any of his published results. Ultimately, he was validated and his results verified by a number of researchers.)

Even so, you have to wonder about this incident, even 35 years later. If true, was it the beginning of a pattern?