| Hwang talks to reporters outside Seoul university. (Reuters)
Seoul, Dec. 23 (Reuters): South Korea’s most famous scientist today quit under a cloud and could face prosecution after investigators said results in a landmark 2005 paper on producing tailored embryonic stem cells were intentionally fabricated.
A panel from Seoul National University has been examining the work of Hwang Woo-suk, hitherto regarded in South Korea as a hero for bringing the country to the forefront of stem-cell and cloning studies ' and giving the world the first cloned dog.
His reputation lay ruined today, and many in the country felt acutely embarrassed. The nine-member panel said the fabrication was “major misconduct that undermines the fundamentals of science”.
It started the probe after some of Hwang’s former collaborators said key findings in their paper were false.
“Based on these findings, the data in 2005 was intentionally fabricated, not an accidental error,” said Roe Jung-hye, the chief of the university’s research office.
“It is difficult for Professor Hwang not to avoid taking major responsibility,” Roe said, adding that the scale of the researcher’s direct involvement was not yet clear. Hwang soon responded, but gave no immediate explanation.
“I am stepping down as a professor at Seoul National University to apologise for causing such big shocks and disappointment,” he said. “But I’d like to repeat patient-tailored embryonic stem cells are South Korean technology. All of you will confirm it.”
Hwang is best known for leading the team that created the world’s first cloned dog, an Afghan hound, called Snuppy.
“It is a heartbreaking turn for science and Korea. Without trust, we just cannot imagine science,” said Laurie Zoloth, a specialist in bioethics for Northwestern University. “This is utterly unacceptable.”
Roe said the panel will also probe the dog cloning and a 2004 academic paper on cloning the first human embryo.
The panel has not concluded whether the key findings of the paper published in Science in May are valid or not ' in other words, whether the team produced tailor-made embryonic stem cells.
It will conduct further testing, including DNA fingerprinting, to determine if the basic findings of the paper are true, Roe said.
Hwang and his several team members admitted to some irregularities when the probe committee interviewed them, added Roe.