If you want to keep track of things in a database, Microsoft Excel is a good choice. It is a great spreadsheet tool that can be useful when keeping track of names, phone numbers, finances, and more, but it seems that Excel’s formatting is messing up the research on human genes.
According to one report, it looks like the HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee has issued a set of guidelines for naming human genes. The need for these guidelines comes on the heels of how Excel’s automatic date formatting feature accidentally ended up altering the data by interpreting the data in the wrong way.
When researchers entered MARCH1 to indicate Membrane Associated Ring-CH-Type Finger 1, Excel thought it was a date and formatted it like a date. So, the committee is asking researchers to rename some of the genes to prevent similar accidents.
While it might seem like a small thing, the implications could be huge. Working with corrupted data or data that has been formatted wrong could set back research done by these scientists. A study from 2016 actually found that out of 3,597 papers that were published, about a fifth of them have been affected by these Excel formatting errors. Hopefully they can work around this.