investigations into the Korean cloning scandals, it is not yet completely
clear either what happened or what the final consequences will be.
Authorities at Seoul National University (SNU) and elsewhere seem
to be focusing the blame entirely on Hwang Woo-suk, while other
researchers involved in the affair are being lightly punished and
Hwang has been
very much under siege in recent weeks. A disciplinary committee
at SNU fired
him and cut his pension in half. The Korean Society for Molecular
and Cellular Biology expelled
him, and the Health Ministry removed his license to conduct
embryonic stem cell research (which means that no
one is allowed to do human cloning research in South Korea at
On March 17,
Hwang appeared in person before the committee to admit wrong-doing
and apologize. "I did not follow the procedures that a scientist
should follow and I was driven by greed," he
said. Two days later, the Ministry of Science and Technology,
which had suspended Hwang's funding last December, formally stripped
him of the title "Supreme
Scientist," which was worth up to $3 million a year for
Perhaps it is
understandable that the one who got the glory also gets the blame,
but there are worrying signs of a concerted effort to pin the rap
on Hwang alone. Other members of his SNU team were disciplined far
more lightly, with suspensions or pay cuts covering only one
to three months. This includes people who were actively involved
in faking data, delivering illegally obtained ova, and buying silence.
was a little good news for the beleaguered Hwang, however: Further
analysis of his original stem cell line indicates that it was not
the result of parthenogenesis, as previously announced by SNU investigators,
but was indeed derived from a cloned
embryo. But the line "would be of little use for experiments
or therapeutic applications because it was damaged too severely,"
according to Prof. Seo Jeong-sun, a neutral expert. Hwang's remaining
academic supporters say the line is important as a "proof of
Hwang also retains
some support among the Korean public. His most vociferous fans are
even advocating violence against his critics. Both the President
and the Dean of Research Affairs at SNU have been physically assaulted
by Hwang enthusiasts in recent weeks. The mob that dragged the Dean
out of her car was yelling, "Protect
the patent! Resume the research!" Hwang supporters also
tried to break up an academic conference on the scandal led by the
National Association of Professors for Democratic Society being
held at SNU.
seems to be derived from intense nationalism as well as hopes for
cures, a potentially explosive mixture. According to an English-speaking
Korean blogger, Hwang's supporters have denounced the public
figures "involved in the Hwang investigation as traitors, and
claim the former cloning star is the victim of a vast conspiracy
led be the United States, which they believe is trying to steal
Korean cloning technology."
There is still
a possibility that Korean authorities will take a broader and more
useful position. The National Bioethics Committee is yet to report,
and the Korean Society for Molecular and Cellular Biology is still
sanctions on the others involved.
At least two
sets of prosecutors
are continuing to investigate both the fraud and the misappropriation
of funds, and may announce their findings in April. Intriguingly,
the anonymous young scientists whose postings on the Internet message
board at the Biological Research Information Center (BRIC) pointed
out the duplicated photographs that were the first proof of fraud
their own report, also due in April.
Asked to Review Pittsburgh Scientist's Stem Cell Funding
of Pittsburgh is facing Congressional calls for re-evaluation of
million in NIH grants that seem to have been awarded to Hwang's
co-author, Gerald Schatten, on the basis of the research that is
now known to be fraudulent. The NIH has refused to comment on grounds
of confidentiality, and Schatten has refused to speak publicly about
the fraud since it was revealed last November. Korean prosecutors
are at last report still trying to get testimony from him, if only
news accounts, Schatten "was involved in laboratory-related
misconduct investigations at both his previous university jobs."
He was cleared in the first case, which involved his receipt of
eggs for research that had been illegally procured by fertility
doctors at the University of California-Irvine. In the second case,
at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, he was investigated
for three "miscommunications" that included a "misstatement"
to the committee about his research work, but "remedied"
the problem "in a relatively short period of time."
The Star System in Science
Wilmut, who became world-famous as the "father
of Dolly," has admitted in court that he
did not exactly clone the first sheep. Asked whether the statement
"I did not create Dolly" was accurate, Wilmut said, "Yes."
He explained that he had a "non-trivial"
supervisory role, but that "66 per cent" of the credit
belonged to his official co-author, Keith Campbell, who left Roslin
soon after the event, reportedly unhappy
at the assignment of credit.
Wilmut and Hwang Woo-suk
suggest that the new version still overstates
Wilmut's role, and note that "It's been an ongoing argument
since it happened. Everyone has their own different set of facts."
The Roslin sheep
certainly did get cloned, as did the Seoul dog and before that Korean
cows and pigs. Wilmut, like Hwang, has moved on to attempt
human embryonic cloning. This caused noisy protests last year
in Germany, when he was awarded the Paul
Ehrlich Prize for his work cloning sheep, which will not, despite
some early reports, be rescinded. Wilmut, also like Hwang, seems
to have benefited from the endemic tendency to focus praise on the
individual at the top of the hierarchy. He has a book, After
Dolly, a Guide to Stem-Cell Technology, scheduled for publication
in July, so there will likely be further discussion of the responsibility
for credit and blame.
over publicity and the allocation of credit seem to have broken
up the UK's other research cloning team, at Newcastle University.
The group's chief scientist, Miodrag Stojkovic, recently moved to
a new research job to Spain, at least partly in protest of the decision
to rush the announcement of a successfully cloned human embryo to
the media in order to match the timing of Hwang's 2005 paper. Stojkovic
says that the press conference was planned without his knowledge,
or that of other team members, by his former collaborator Alison
Murdoch, and that such announcements violate good scientific practice.
In addition, Stojkovic contests the extent of Murdoch's contributions
to the effort.