Mind-boggling plagiarism of this blog

In January 2015, someone went to the effort of creating a fake raphazlab blog as the stripy nanoparticles controversy was descending from a scientific debate into the gutters of online discussions.

Fast forward three years. The Spherical Nucleic Acids controversy is slowly heating up. Chad Mirkin continues to win prizes after prizes, but he is unseemly asked to comment on the failing SmartFlare technology (the commercial name of the Spherical Nucleic Acids) by Dalmeet Singh writing for Chemistry World.

Dalmeet writes:

But Chad Mirkin, a chemist at Northwestern University in the US, who developed the precursor to SmartFlares, nanoflares, pointed Chemistry World to more than 30 papers, which, he says, have successfully used the technology.

Chemistry World contacted a number of groups that have used SmartFlares. Hirendranath Banerjee, a molecular biologist at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, describes SmartFlares as a ‘very novel and effective technique’, noting that it has been helpful in evaluating gene expression experiments in his lab.2

Now comes the mind-boggling part.

The introduction of Hirendranath’s paper (reference 2 above) is largely plagiarized… from this very blog. From the very first SmartFlare post on this blog, entitled How smart are the SmartFlares?

Below, is an excerpt from my post with, in red, the sentences that reference 2 copied.

RNA molecules play crucial roles in cells such as coding, decoding, regulation, and expression of genes, yet they are much more difficult to study. SmartFlares are nanoparticle-based probes for the detection and imaging of RNA in live cells. Could they become the GFP of the RNA world?

 Many certainly believe this to be the case. SmartFlare ranked second in TheScientist top ten 2013 innovations, with one of the judges, Kevin Lustig, commenting “These new RNA detection probes can be used to visualize RNA expression in live cells at the single-cell level.”  The following year, SmartFlare won an R&D100 award. The technology comes from Chad Mirkin’s lab at Northwestern University. Chad Mirkin is the winner of numerous prestigious prizes and a science adviser to the President of the United States. The scientific articles introducing the SmartFlare concept (under the name of Nano-Flare) were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in 2007, ACS Nano in 2009, etc. In 2013, the SmartFlare technology was licensed to EMD Millipore. Here is one of their promotional video:

For a molecular sensor to work, it needs a detection mechanism. The principle of the SmartFlare is explained from 0:45. A capture oligonucleotide (i.e. DNA) is bound to the gold nanoparticles. A reporter strand is bound to the capture strand. The reporter strand carries a fluorophore but that fluorophore does not emit light because it is too close to the gold (the fluorescence is “quenched”). In the presence of the target RNA, the reporter strand is replaced by the target RNA and therefore released, quenching stops, and fluorescence is detected.

This is plagiarism, with, in addition, a clear intent to deceive: whilst the article entire point appears to be the celebration of the SmartFlare technology, e.g concluding sentence (Thus Smart Flare novel gold nanoparticles could revolutionize the field of differential gene expression studies and drug discovery), the 2015 blog post was already doubting the validity of the technology.
I wrote to the Editor of the Journal who said that they would evaluate the claims and take some form of action. I contacted Hirendra Banerjee who declined to provide a statement; instead he issued a legal threat against the publication of this post.
Meanwhile, on Twitter
Conclusion of this exchange?


  1. Mr. Levy, in your great haste to score another “win” against a far more accomplished professor and scientist, you should at least be honest with your reporting. You intentionally and misleadingly conflate “spherical nucleic acids” as a whole with Smartflares, which are but one application of spherical nucleic acids. There is no question that the latter are effective gene regulation agents, building blocks for supramolecular self assembly, etc. You should be more measured in your discourse before it comes back to bite you. Seems like “taking down” Stellaci has given you a big head and a big ego!


  2. Polyplex: one can only admire the modesty that prevents you from sharing your insightful comments about people’s prestige, accomplishments and egos under your real name.

    I share your yearning for accuracy. Therefore I suggest you might write to Northwestern (and Mirkin) to ask them to correct this story (https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2017/october/chad-mirkin-receives-2017-wilhelm-exner-medal-in-austria/) published a few days ago. It says that the “spherical nucleic acids (SNAs) […] form the basis for more than 1,600 commercial products, including three drugs that are in human clinical trials.” Those 1,600 commercial products are the SmartFlares; yet it is an error since the number of SmartFlares still sold is now 21 (probably zero fairly soon).

    As for the clinical trials/gene regulations, given that they are at least in part based on the same deficient concept of magical endosomal escape, they are a cause for concern, not a cause for applause.


    1. Why would I post my identity on the blog of a known scientific troll who spends his time indiscriminately bashing others’ work? I’m an industry chemist who follows the literature. You are getting sloppy with your critiques of Mirkin. I understand you probably have an inflated sense of self-importance which is clouding your judgment. I never questioned your results (or others’) with Smartflares, but now as you call someone’s wider body of work into question you are crossing into dangerous territory. Remember that a drug’s mechanism does not have to be elucidated for FDA approval. If the spherical nucleic acids pass clinical trials, great. If not, add them to the pile of many thousands of other drugs that have failed.


    2. The “magical endosomal escape” is not a deficient concept. It has been demonstrated time and time again, by many groups, that oligonucleotide-decorated nanoparticles can affect target mRNA translation into protein once endocytosed. That is an end result you simply cannot argue with. Out of billions of oligonucleotides it is not hard to imagine that a few can enter the cytosol and interact with mRNA. You are not picking and choosing your battles wisely and by expanding the scope of your internet feud with Mirkin beyond Smartflares you will quickly find yourself in libel territory. As you may know, English defamation law is quite broad.


      1. Out of trillions of oligonucleotides, a good many will have a major effect on cell biochemistry. Not because they gain access to the nucleocytoplasmic space, but because they interact with molecules in the pericellular matrix. A few decades ago there was a hyped up technology: antisense oligonucleotides. These would specifically direct RNaseH degradation of the targeted mRNA. In vitro perfect. Try it on cells and hundreds of papers demonstrated that antisense oligonucleotides reduced expression of the targeted mRNA, and most had the required scrambled sequence control.
        A few hardy souls questioned this: the half life of a phosphodiester bond in the medium of cultured cells is rather short and they couldn’t obtain evidence that the oligonucleotides went beyond endosomes. Some groups demonstrated that there were sequences specific signalling effects mediated by molecules of the pericellular matrix, leading to effects on transcription.
        And where is this wondrous technology? In the bin, as it never actually did what was claimed: the oligonucleotides did not gain access to the nucleocytoplasmic space.
        Smart flares represent the 4th, 5th or 6th cycle of the addition of a large entity outside the cell and claims of direct effects in the nucleocytoplasmic space. So some hard evidence is required.
        Currently, the idea that smart flares gain access to the cytoplasmic space is supported only by rather weak data – there is no direct quantification in terms of the time dependence of the numbers of particles in solution, numbers associated with the cell surface, numbers in endosomes and numbers in the nucleocytoplasmic space. The count is I gather nearly 40 papers, but these simple data have yet to be acquired. Why?
        As for reputation, this has no value in science, only guesses/hypotheses and experimental data, etc., have value. It is always worth watching this short clip from a lecture by Richard Feyman to remind yourself about this simple fact.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t suppose you see the irony of calling me a troll when you have just posted about 20 unsolicited comments on my blog in the past few weeks… Anyway: let’s focus on the science, OK? There is an interesting point towards the middle of your second comment; you say: “Out of billions of oligonucleotides it is not hard to imagine that a few can enter the cytosol and interact with mRNA.” I agree. The problem is that whilst this is OK for transfection type experiments where you do not care much about the billions that do nothing, it is a huge problem both for imaging experiments (nanoflares, smartflares) and for therapeutic applications.


  4. Even if information pertaining to Smartflares were taken from a non copyrighted web site and information provided by Millipore Corporation,these informations obtained from the web from non copyrighted,non peer reviewed publications is free to use under the freedom of information act!henceforth,Dr.Levy should not accuse us of plagiarism!Dr.Levy also claimed in pubpeers that a false web site was created on his name(please read below),so,how is he even claiming those informations which are just facts about smartflares to be his own??we worked very hard to compare smartflare data with Real Time PCR data as described in the paper and our results indicated smartflare technology to be very effective as it almost matched the Real Time data!Dr.Levy is trying to denigrate scientists who are getting good results from smartflare and supporting the technology!unfortunately,he has targeted our group since we strongly support this technology!!Dr.Chad Mirkin,the innovator of Smartflare technology and a US presidential scientist,have called publicly, Dr.Levy to be dishonest and trolling other smartflare users,I am a disabled scientist who respects other members of my profession so I will not pursue the lying and defamation of some schizophrenic scientists vendetta against a really helpful and scientific technique like Smartflares!! Please read Dr.Levy’s comments on creation of a fake website on his name:
    MIND-BOGGLING PLAGIARISM OF THIS BLOG In January 2015, someone went to the effort of creating a fake raphazlab blog as the stripy nanoparticles controversy was descending from a scientific debate into the gutters of online discussions.
    If that is a fake web site then who should we acknowledge for the information and who is writing those informations??that is why no journals have provisions for blogs or bloggers in citing in their reference section!!information from blogs henceforth could not be detected by plagiarism detection tools,the journal that published this article claims to have plagiarism detection tools,why nothing was detected??the simple reason that information from the web is freely available to use (and in this case just facts about smartflares)and not considered plagarism!!!!!


    1. Thanks for your comment. I suggest you might want to refresh your mind on the definition of plagiarism, for example, from this website http://easternct.libguides.com/plagiarism
      “Plagiarism is simply using someone’s work and not acknowledging or giving credit to the original author(s). I am plagiarizing if I: Intentionally duplicate or copy another person’s work including copying directly from an article, book, or website. [etc]”.


  5. There is a difference between plagiarism and breach of copyright. Both involve plagiarism. Thus, it is accepted good scholarly practice to acknowledge the source(s) of information and text, with quotes used to indicate useful txt that is taken verbatim. We learn this at school in all subjects and the message is reinforced in all credible universities.


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