The studies, published in April 2019, were retracted on ethical grounds by the journals Human Genetics and the International Journal of Legal Medicine. The authors were unable to sufficiently demonstrate that the DNA used in the studies was obtained with the consent of the Uighurs.

The studies explore the possibilities of using someone’s DNA to determine their appearance. For example, DNA could be used to reconstruct a person’s face. Forensic experts all over the word are interested in these techniques because they could potentially be an effective crime-solving tool.

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‘Rotterdam scientist contributed to dubious Chinese DNA study’

A member of Erasmus MC’s academic staff was involved in a study using DNA samples taken…


One of the co-authors for both studies, Fan Liu, is a researcher at Erasmus MC. He works in Rotterdam as an assistant professor at the Department of Genetic Identification. In a response issued 2 years ago, Erasmus MC stated that he had worked on the studies now retracted by the journals when he was a scientist at the Beijing Institute of Genomics. One of the other researchers involved in the studies was hired by Erasmus MC after the studies had been completed.

The studies became a source of controversy after The New York Times expressed serious concerns in 2019 that DNA for the study was taken from hundreds of Uighurs under duress. Both scientific journals subsequently asked the authors for supporting documentation such as ethics approval for the study.


However, the documentation was deemed insufficient, according to the retraction note published by Human Genetics on 30 August: “The documents supplied by the authors contain insufficient information related to the scope of the study for us to remain confident that the protocols complied with our editorial policies or are in line with international ethical standards.” The International Journal of Legal Medicine retracted the other study on Tuesday with the same retraction note.

According to the retraction notes, the scientists involved in the studies stated they do not agree with the decision to retract the articles.

Erasmus MC responds

In a response to Follow the Money, Erasmus MC once again stressed that the studies were conducted outside of Erasmus MC and that they were not produced with funding from the Rotterdam-based institution. Erasmus MC sees no grounds for critically examining other studies and has no plans to take measures against the researchers in question.