Gene name errors: Lessons not learned

PLoS Comput Biol. 2021 Jul 30;17(7):e1008984. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1008984. eCollection 2021 Jul.


Erroneous conversion of gene names into other dates and other data types has been a frustration for computational biologists for years. We hypothesized that such errors in supplementary files might diminish after a report in 2016 highlighting the extent of the problem. To assess this, we performed a scan of supplementary files published in PubMed Central from 2014 to 2020. Overall, gene name errors continued to accumulate unabated in the period after 2016. An improved scanning software we developed identified gene name errors in 30.9% (3,436/11,117) of articles with supplementary Excel gene lists; a figure significantly higher than previously estimated. This is due to gene names being converted not just to dates and floating-point numbers, but also to internal date format (five-digit numbers). These findings further reinforce that spreadsheets are ill-suited to use with large genomic data.

MeSH terms

  • Computational Biology / standards*
  • Genes / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Annotation / standards*
  • PubMed
  • Software
  • Terminology as Topic

Grants and funding

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.