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Floyd Romesberg

Ryan Lash/TED/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Star scientist out at Scripps Research

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), the high-profile biology research hub in San Diego, California, has forced out prominent biochemist Floyd Romesberg, several sources have told ScienceInsider.

Romesberg departed TSRI in mid-June, the institute confirmed yesterday. It would not say whether he was fired. Chris Emery, the senior director of communications at the institute, which last year was renamed Scripps Research, emailed the following statement to ScienceInsider:

TSRI has never received a complaint about Dr. Romesberg sexually harassing a graduate student or anyone else.  We did learn information suggesting a potential Title IX violation by Dr. Romesberg.  Even though no formal complaint was made, we promptly conducted a thorough and impartial investigation.  Based on the investigation, TSRI found no violation of Title IX, the gender equity regulation governing academic institutions.

However, Dr. Romesberg is no longer with TSRI, we are winding down his lab at the institute, and we will not comment on any personnel decision by Dr. Romesberg or TSRI.

Romesberg’s name disappeared from the institute’s faculty listing on 5 August, although his lab page is still active.

Attempts to reach Romesberg were unsuccessful.

Title IX is the 1972 U.S. law that prohibits institutions that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex. Scripps Research, which has a significant education and training component, first implemented a formal Title IX sexual misconduct policy in August 2018.

Romesberg made his name creating a pair of novel DNA bases, dubbed  X and Y, that expanded the naturally occurring, four-letter alphabet that comprises the genetic code. He inserted them into the bacterium Escherichia coli to create a reproducing, semisynthetic organism with a six-letter genetic alphabet. He and his team then demonstrated that the modified bacterium could produce novel proteins, making it a possible tool for creating new drugs.

Romesberg describes his work in this TED talk. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, does the same in this blog.