Nature Biotechnology looking at NgAgo paper amidst reproducibility concerns

NgAgo China newspaper
Screenshot of part of China Daily article

When potentially game changing new technologies are reported such as NgAgo gene editing, both scientists and the public get excited, but especially if such new reports stem from a single paper it is wise to take a cautious approach for a while. The key question is whether the new findings will turn out to be reproducible.

With the case of NgAgo specifically, the Nature Biotechnology paper reporting potentially very desirable gene editing properties, drew a lot of interest. See archived blog posts on NgAgo here.

NgAgo China newspaper
Snapshot of part of China Daily article. Photo Credit Dr. Robert Geller

However, recently many within the scientific community have reported consistent difficulties in getting NgAgo to function as reported. Gaetan Burgio did a guest post here presenting 7 figures of data that together paint a picture of NgAgo not functioning at all like CRISPR.

Now comes word that Nature Biotechnology is looking into the NgAgo paper from Han Chunyu Han from Hebei University of Science and Technology to determine what is going on. This situation even made it into China’s official government run newspaper (see headline and a bit of the article above in image, HT to Bob Geller).

Does NgAgo work as a gene editor, but only under very specific conditions? Can it do something else such as act like a ligase?

Hopefully more clarity can quickly be achieved on NgAgo. Some are comparing NgAgo to STAP, but I think that’s premature at this stage.


  1. Hmm.

    After seeing the replication attempts posted to the genome engineering Google group, seeing Han’s response to criticism, and the bigger picture of Gaetan’s own experiment (the details and speculation about NgAgo being a ligase and functionally surviving DNA isolation are, in my opinion, sketchy at best and probably not the actual explanation for what he saw), this is probably like STAP, but hopefully just due to unintentional cross-contamination of samples with the corresponding CRISPR/Cas9 plasmids.

    It’s very unfortunate that Han is still insisting that his experiments are correct in saying that NgAgo has nuclease activity. The curious ways in which they are carried out relative to the rest of the field is concerning and his statements reflecting his own (mis)understanding of molecular biology are slightly alarming.

    Also, it always reflects well on an investigator to claim that everyone else in the world is incompetent, as Han has done. /sarcasm

    To me, the only puzzling thing is why, having read the actual paper (hopefully!), so many labs looked at NgAgo and said to themselves “yes, we should totally try this convoluted (and unconvincing) new system in cells and animals!”

    Maybe it’s just because I don’t have the money to spend on such endeavors?

  2. I know nothing about gene editing. Han’s controversy, however, makes me wonder Nature peer review process. Did the editors and reviewers don’t know the significancy of Han’s results? If yes and given that Han is not a big name in the field, they had to ask a lot of detail questions or interviewed him prior to publication.

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