The HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee issued new Guidelines for human gene nomenclature that, among other things, renamed several gene names that Excel automatically converts to dates.
For example, the gene Septin 1 has been coded as SEPT1, which Excel helpfully converts to the date September 1.
Symbols that affect data handling and retrieval. For example, all symbols that autoconverted to dates in Microsoft Excel have been changed (for example, SEPT1 is now SEPTIN1; MARCH1 is now MARCHF1); tRNA synthetase symbols that were also common words
have been changed (for example, WARS is now WARS1; CARS is now
A 2016 study in Genome Biology found that this and other Excel mishaps affected a surprisingly large number of published studies.
The problem of Excel software (Microsoft Corp., Redmond, WA, USA) inadvertently converting gene symbols to dates and floating-point numbers was originally described in 2004 . For example, gene symbols such as SEPT2 (Septin 2) and MARCH1 [Membrane-Associated Ring Finger (C3HC4) 1, E3 Ubiquitin Protein Ligase] are converted by default to ‘2-Sep’ and ‘1-Mar’, respectively. Furthermore, RIKEN identifiers were described to be automatically converted to floating point numbers (i.e. from accession ‘2310009E13’ to ‘2.31E+13’). Since that report, we have uncovered further instances where gene symbols were converted to dates in supplementary data of recently published papers (e.g. ‘SEPT2’ converted to ‘2006/09/02’). This suggests that gene name errors continue to be a problem in supplementary files accompanying articles. Inadvertent gene symbol conversion is problematic because these supplementary files are an important resource in the genomics community that are frequently reused. Our aim here is to raise awareness of the problem.
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Supplementary files in Excel format from 18 journals published from 2005 to 2015 were programmatically screened for the presence of gene name errors. In total, we screened 35,175 supplementary Excel files, finding 7467 gene lists attached to 3597 published papers. We downloaded and opened each file with putative gene name errors. Ten false-positive cases were identified. We confirmed gene name errors in 987 supplementary files from 704 published articles (Table 1; for individual listings, see Table S1 in Additional file 1). Of the selected journals, the proportion of published articles with Excel files containing gene lists that are affected by gene name errors is 19.6 %.