Published online 21 December 2007 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2007.400


Disgraced cloner Woo Suk Hwang attempts a comeback

Work continues to be published under Hwang's name.

In January 2006, Woo Suk Hwang’s apparent breakthrough articles announcing the first cloned human embryonic stem cells were shown to be fabrications. It was the biggest scientific scandal in recent history, and one might have thought his scientific career was over.

Hwang was fired from his position and his licence to work with human embryonic stem cells was revoked. But on 17 December an official said that Hwang had applied for a new licence for this type of work. The Korean science ministry is expected to make a decision on the application by April 2008.

And in the meantime, Hwang’s name has appeared on more than a dozen scientific articles. Most of them, such as a wolf-cloning article, are 'leftovers' from his Seoul National University research group, which he led until the scandal. Although he was fired from that position in March 2006, papers continued to be published on work done when he led the lab.

At least three publications, however, have resulted from work after the scandal, from Hwang’s new, privately funded group at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation on the outskirts of Seoul. The articles, published in Animal Production Science1, Reproduction2, and Theriogenology3, all discuss improvements in pig cloning by new methods of cultivating porcine eggs. Hwang is the corresponding author on all.

Editor-in-chief of Animal Reproduction Science, Keith Lindsay Macmillan of the University of Melbourne, Australia, says that a reviewer assigned to reading the manuscript raised the issue of Hwang’s involvement. But the reviewer expressed the opinion that the manuscript’s contents did not arouse any issues of concern and that any decision should not be prejudiced by Hwang’s co-authorship.

“One of the Journal’s Board members… was asked to provide an opinion related to the reliability and credibility of the manuscript’s contents,” Macmillan told Nature. “The Board member confirmed the opinion of the reviewer. From this point, the manuscript was processed in the normal manner.”

For Hwang’s research to go forward, he will have to stay out of jail. He is still on trial on charges of fraud, embezzlement and violation of Korean bioethics laws, which could put him away for more than ten years. 

  • References

    1. Jeong, Y.W., et al. Animal Reproduction, doi:10.1016/j.anireprosci.2007.03.021 (2007)
    2. Lee E. et al., Reproduction, 134, 405-414 (2007) | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |
    3. McElroy S.L. et al., Theriogenology doi:10.1016/j.theriogenology.2007.10.010 (2007)
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