This has profound implication for the interpretation of alternative splicing data. If Pickerell et al. are correct—and they aren't the only ones to raise this issue—then claims about alternative splicing being a common phenomenon are wrong. At the very least, those claims are controversial and every time you see such a claim in the scientific literature it should be accompanied by a statement about possible artifacts due to splicing errors. If you don't see that mentioned in the paper then you know you aren't dealing with a real scientist.
Here's the abstract and the author summary ..
While the majority of multiexonic human genes show some evidence of alternative splicing, it is unclear what fraction of observed splice forms is functionally relevant. In this study, we examine the extent of alternative splicing in human cells using deep RNA sequencing and de novo identification of splice junctions. We demonstrate the existence of a large class of low abundance isoforms, encompassing approximately 150,000 previously unannotated splice junctions in our data. Newly-identified splice sites show little evidence of evolutionary conservation, suggesting that the majority are due to erroneous splice site choice. We show that sequence motifs involved in the recognition of exons are enriched in the vicinity of unconserved splice sites. We estimate that the average intron has a splicing error rate of approximately 0.7% and show that introns in highly expressed genes are spliced more accurately, likely due to their shorter length. These results implicate noisy splicing as an important property of genome evolution.
Most human genes are split into pieces, such that the protein-coding parts (exons) are separated in the genome by large tracts of non-coding DNA (introns) that must be transcribed and spliced out to create a functional transcript. Variation in splicing reactions can create multiple transcripts from the same gene, yet the function for many of these alternative transcripts is unknown. In this study, we show that many of these transcripts are due to splicing errors which are not preserved over evolutionary time. We estimate that the error rate in the splicing of an intron is about 0.7% and demonstrate that there are two major types of splicing error: errors in the recognition of exons and errors in the precise choice of splice site. These results raise the possibility that variation in levels of alternative splicing across species may in part be to variation in splicing error rate.
Pickrell, J.K., Pai, A.A., and Gilad, Y., Pritchard, J.P. (2010) Noisy Splicing Drives mRNA Isoform Diversity in Human Cells. PLoS Genet 6(12): e1001236. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1001236