Genes Renamed Due to Excel Format Issue

Excel was converting the gene names into dates.

Error Type: Format error

Reported on: 6th August 2020

What happened?

Scientists in the HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee (HGNC) have decided to rename 27 human genes because Excel was converting their names into dates.

For example:

  • SEPT1 was being converted to the 1st of September and is now called SEPTIN1
  • MARCH1 was being converted to the 1st of March and is now called MARCHF1

What caused the error?

Excel is designed to look for text that looks like a date and to convert it into a date. This is intended to help your average Excel user in the normal course of their work, and it's quite handy to be perfectly honest.

When it's not so handy is when you are a geneticist and rely on Excel to hold the critical data from your research. In fact it could prove to be downright dangerous!

Apparently this is actually a fairly common issue. A 2016 study found that Excel had affected about a fifth of genetics-related papers.

How could the error have been avoided?

In this case the HGNC have acted themselves in order to avoid the error in future. Renaming the genes removes this specific risk of using Excel to record their research data.

Read the article published by the Verge here.

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