In a letter to Nature published in last week's print edition, Michael Eisen at the University of California, Berkeley, points out that DNA molecule illustration adorning the journal's September 9 cover is twisted backwards. "It could not escape my notice that your cover … is dominated by a DNA molecule with a pronounced left-handed helical twist," Eisen writes. "In the structure originally proposed by James Watson and Francis Crick in your pages, however, the chains of DNA follow paired right-handed helices." He suggests that the journal's editors display "this sketch of DNA, arguably the most iconic image ever published by Nature … prominently" in their office, so as to prevent similar mistakes in the future.
Marc Abrahams at Improbable Research points to Tom Schneider's "The Left-Handed DNA Hall of Fame," which chronicles similar journal gaffes and advises readers how best to "flip" image files to ensure that the double-helix winds to the right. Schneider, a research biologist at the National Cancer Institute, says that "1997 and 1998 were bumper crop years" for these blunders, with 37 documented in each. In 2001, a record 105 spiral switch-ups were published, according to Schneider's count.