genetics

Scientists rename human genes in bid to prevent Microsoft Excel autocorrections

Victor Barreiro Jr.
Scientists rename human genes in bid to prevent Microsoft Excel autocorrections
Some abbreviated gene names are misread by Microsoft Excel and turned into dates instead

Scientists have renamed 27 human genes in a bid to prevent Microsoft Excel from automatically changing the names of genes in spreadsheets and corrupting data.

The Verge reported, Thursday, August 6, the changes were done over the past year because some human gene names, or at least their conventions, can be seen as dates or simple words that Excel converts based on formatting.

For instance, “Membrane Associated Ring-CH-Type Finger 1,” or MARCH1, is converted into 1-Mar by Microsoft Excel.

A 2016 study cited in the Verge report which examined genetic data shared in 3,597 published papers found about a fifth of these had been hit by Excel autocorrections or other similar errors.

Adaptation

Rather than wait for Microsoft to update Excel, the HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee, or HGNC, decided to update the names of 27 of the genes.

The rules and conventions for renaming were only formally released this week, though researchers who had published on the genes in question were notified about when the changes were made.

The MARCH1 symbol listed earlier is now MARCHF1, while symbols for tRNA synthetase that could be misread as simple words (WARS, CARS) have also been appropriately tweaked (WARS1, CARS1).

Meanwhile, the perceived “backing down” of scientists is more of a pragmatic approach to a problem.

While Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment from The Verge, the theorized reasoning was that scientists adapted their work to fit the use case of their situation.

Said Elspeth Bruford, the coordinator of HGNC, “This is quite a limited use case of the Excel software.”

“There is very little incentive for Microsoft to make a significant change to features that are used extremely widely by the rest of the massive community of Excel users.” – Rappler.com

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author

Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr is part of Rappler's Central Desk. An avid patron of role-playing games and science fiction and fantasy shows, he also yearns to do good in the world, and hopes his work with Rappler helps to increase the good that's out there.