12/22/2005, 00.00
South korea
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The journal "Science" investigates false claims of cloning "pioneer"

One of the most credible scientific journal said it wants to "review all the papers from Dr Hwang's laboratory". Under lights the human cloning prove that appears identical to photos published previously in another journal on an unrelated topic.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In a further blow to the credibility of the South Korean researcher who claimed to be the first to clone a human embryo, the journal Science said it is now investigating the 2004 study it published that first brought Hwang Woo-suk to prominence.

At issue are two vital photographs that Dr Hwang used to illustrate his breakthrough claim. They appear identical to photos published previously in another journal on an unrelated topic.

The controversy arises from two photographs of stem cells that appeared in 2003 in the journal Molecules and Cells in an article describing a routine experiment. The very same photos also appear to have been used by Dr Hwang in February of the following year in a Science article, purporting to be stem cells derived from cloned  human embryos, claimed at the time as a scientific first.

"The editors of Science are reviewing both the 2004 and 2005 papers from Dr Hwang's laboratory in light of new questions about the authenticity of images in the 2004 paper," the journal said in a statement on Tuesday. "So far, there has been no substantiated charge."

This adds to a long list of charges levelled against the fallen "cloning king" in the past month.

Dr Hwang maintains that his central findings, published in two Science papers last year and this, are legitimate. But he has admitted to ethical lapses during his research.

The scandal got worse when Hwang himself acknowledged that—contrary to what had been said at the beginning of the study—two members of his staff took ovocytes from volunteers without their consent. The South Korean government backed the scientist, but he was forced to resign from all his official posts in November. None the less, he was back at his job last Tuesday.

A former colleague of the embattled scientist said yesterday that he has asked his university to widen its investigation into the stem-cell researcher's work and review earlier purported breakthroughs. Moon Shin-yong, who played a key role in Dr Hwang's research, said he had asked Seoul National University to investigate Dr Hwang's paper published last year in Science that showed his team created the world's first cloned  human embryos and extracted stem cells from them. "In the scientific community, when one paper is proven to be fabricated, it is customary to review all related papers," Dr Moon said, adding that he "currently doesn't know" if there is any problem with the article.

Some scientists, including two co-authors on the 2005 paper, are beginning to believe that much of Dr Hwang's stem-cell work was fabricated.

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