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Lessons of the Cloning Scandal

- Abstract

By now most well-informed people know the sorry tale of Hwang Woo Suk, the South Korean veterinarian who rose to scientific superstardom as a pioneer of cloning—and who fell just as quickly when it came to light that his “breakthroughs” had mostly been fabricated, and rather sloppily at that. Hwang, who had been awarded the title of “supreme scientist” and an annual grant of some $3 million by the South Korean government, has now been suspended from his chair at Seoul National University (SNU), and his numerous collaborators face varying degrees of censure.

The facts of the case are relatively straightforward. In February 2004, Hwang surprised the world when he announced that he and his team had created human embryonic stem cells from donor eggs. The announcement was followed by the publication of a report in the American journal Science, in which Hwang and his colleagues described how they had extracted the nucleus of an adult cell and inserted it into an egg cell from the same donor whose own nucleus had been removed. They then purportedly coaxed the egg cell to divide until it yielded embryonic stem cells—a trick that succeeded after 242 attempts. In layman’s terms, this was the first report of successful human cloning.

About the Author

Kevin Shapiro is a research fellow in neuroscience and a student at Harvard Medical School.