Disgraced researcher questioned over interspecies cloning claims

by jeeg 21. October 2011 23:59

Critics are questioning the veracity of recent claims from the research team of Dr. Hwang Woo-suk at the Suam Bioengineering Research Institute and Gyeonggi Province. Hwang and the government claim that the team succeeded for the first time in cloning the endangered coyote and performing interspecies cloning using a dog’s egg.

Observers said the report was exaggerated to inflate the significance of the findings.

On Monday, the province received eight juvenile coyotes cloned by Hwang’s team in accordance with an agreement signed with the research team on the cloning of endangered animals. The method used reportedly involved interspecies cloning in which coyote skin cells were cloned through insertion in the egg of a dog, which belongs to same family but a different species.

Gyeonggi Gov. Kim Moon-soo offered lavish praise, calling it “something out of a science fiction novel” and saying, “The cloning of a mammoth is not far away.”

The province went on to announce plans to contribute the preservation of the endangered species by sending the coyote clones to their original habitat in North America.

But data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUNC), which assigns protection levels to endangered species, classifies the coyote as a species of “least concern” (LC) for extinction. The same category includes humans.

The IUNC notes that the coyote lived in a broad range of habitats in North America and that its distribution is increasing.

In response to the controversy, the province backed off Wednesday, saying it had “merely passed on data from the Suam Institute.”

A Gyeonggi official said, “If we did anything wrong, it was copying [the data] without checking it.”

Meanwhile, Hwang’s team argued that the coyote is not, strictly speaking, an endangered species, and that there was a “misunderstanding during the communication process.”

It also said the province drafted the materials and that “Gyeonggi Province went overboard with the North American release of the cloned coyotes.”

Also controversial are the team and province’s claims that the research was the “first in the world” and that there had been no previous instances of interspecies cloning in the dog family.

In 2007, the research team of Seoul National University Professor Lee Byung-chun published that it had used interspecies cloning technology to clone a gray wolf.

“The coyote cloning is another example of interspecies cloning after the gray wolf cloning,” said Chungnam National University Professor Kim Min-kyu. “Since the dog, the wolf, and the coyote are all members of the dog family, the techniques for interspecies cloning would be similar.”

In response, Kim’s team said, “Since the dog is close enough to the wolf that they are essentially the same species, we cannot recognize the wolf cloning as ‘interspecies cloning.’”

Oh Cheol-woo, The Hankyoreh


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