Microsoft fixes an Excel function that forced scientists to rename human genes

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Picture: Stephen Brashear (Getty Images)

Microsoft recently released one Blog highlighting new Excel updates which allow users to disable automatic data conversion. This is good news for scientists because in recent years they have had to rename a number of human gene names as Excel converts them into data.

For a little context, each gene is given a name and a symbol, the latter usually being an alphanumeric character. So for example Membrane-associated ring CH-type finger 1 will be shortened to MARCH1. However, Excel used to incorrectly interpret this as a date and put it in “1. March”.

There was no way to disable this automatic conversion, which ultimately affected hundreds of academic papers. This resulted in scientists spending hours manually troubleshooting the errors and restoring the data. In 2020, the community made it their mission Change the way these genes were referenced in Excel. So MARCH1 became MARCHF1, SEPT1 became SEPTIN1 and so on.

Three years later, Microsoft has finally caught up and introduced a number of features, including the names of the fix genes. There is now a checkbox labeled “Convert sequential letters and numbers to a date” that can be checked or unchecked. The update introduces a few more checkboxes, all under the Automatic Data Conversion category.

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Picture: Microsoft

Microsoft has also added an additional option below that says, “Notify me about automatic number conversions when loading a CSV or similar file.” As the name suggests, this checkbox displays a warning message when you open a CSV or TXT file with one of the optional automatic data conversions.

However, keep in mind that one of the “known issues” with the update that Microsoft pointed out on its blog is that the new conversion option doesn’t work when you run macros.

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