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Top UK genomics institute investigates bullying allegations

The Wellcome Sanger Institute is owned by the Wellcome Trust, which this year launched a pioneering anti-bullying policy.

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A man walks in front of a sloped roof building at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge

The Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire.Credit: 67photo/Alamy

An investigation into allegations of bullying is under way at one of the world’s top genomics centres — the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK.

“There is an independent investigation underway which will ensure full and proper exploration of these allegations,” a spokesperson for the institute said in a statement. “It would not be fair to anyone involved in this process to say more at this point.”

The institute is owned and funded by the Wellcome Trust, which, earlier this year, launched a pioneering policy that aims to stamp out bullying and harassment in laboratories that it funds.

The trust, one of the world’s largest private funders of biomedical research, said in a statement that it is aware of the investigation at Sanger, and that it would “await the outcome of that process before commenting further”.

Sanger employs almost 1,000 scientists and other skilled professionals and is supported by a recurrent 5-year grant from the Wellcome Trust, which amounts to £517 million (US$670 million) for 2017–21.

According to The Guardian, which first reported on the investigation at Sanger on 29 August, the complaints come from current and former staff members and include allegations against the institute’s director, geneticist Michael Stratton, who has been at the helm since 2010. The institute told Nature that Stratton was aware of the allegations but that he would not comment further because of the ongoing investigation.

The Guardian reports that the allegations include that senior staff have been mistreated and bullied, that scientists have been pressured to leave their posts at short notice, that due process has not been followed when staff have raised grievances and that these problems have disproportionately affected female staff.

The allegations follow another case of alleged bullying that came to light earlier this month and thrust Wellcome’s new anti-harassment policy into the spotlight. On 17 August, Wellcome announced that it was revoking £3.5 million in funding from cancer geneticist Nazneen Rahman, following an investigation into allegations that she bullied people when she worked at the Institute of Cancer Research in London. It was the first time that Wellcome had implemented the policy.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-06131-8
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