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South Korean team cleared in cloned wolf probe

South Korean scientists, whose reputation has been tainted by fraudulent stem cell studies, committed errors in a paper on producing the world's first cloned grey wolves but did not manipulate data, an investigative panel said on Friday.
File photo of cloned wolf in cage at veterinary hospital in Kwachon
South Korean scientists, whose reputation has been tainted by fraudulent stem cell studies, committed errors in a paper on producing the world's first cloned grey wolves but did not manipulate data, an investigative panel said.Lee Jae-Won / Reuters file
/ Source: Reuters

South Korean scientists, whose reputation has been tainted by fraudulent stem cell studies, committed errors in a paper on producing the world's first cloned grey wolves but did not manipulate data, an investigative panel said on Friday.

The Seoul National University team, once hailed at home as heroes but later seen as an embarrassment after reports of stem cell fraud, was being investigated on suspicion of massaging data to increase the cloning success rate for the wolves.

"We concluded the team did not need or intend to inflate the success rate," said Kuk Yang, chief of Seoul National University's office of research affairs.

The error in the team's work was limited to a data entry in one table, but an investigation of lab records and computer files indicated it was an honest mistake and not an attempt at fraud, Kuk said.

The team asked to correct its paper upon discovering its mistake, he added

"Cloning and Stem Cells", the U.S. periodical that published the team's report on cloning wolves, had withdrawn the paper from its Internet site earlier this month pending the results of the university's investigation panel.

The investigation panel said independent testing also verified that the team actually produced cloned Korean grey wolves, an endangered species.

It added that since the team produced the wolves named Snuwolf and Snuwolffy, who were born about a year and a half ago, it had produced six more Korean grey wolves. Three of those wolves have since died.

The team was once led by Hwang Woo-suk, who resigned from his post in December 2005 after an interim investigation found his team had fabricated data on producing patient-specific embryonic stem cells, a paper that was once hailed as a breakthrough.

A few weeks later, the investigation panel said another landmark paper on the creation of cloned embryonic stem cells was marred by serious fraud.

Hwang is on trial for fraud, embezzlement and violating the country's bioethics laws.

The team produced the world's first cloned dog in 2005, which has been verified by independent testing. Dogs are considered among the most difficult mammals to clone because of their reproductive cycle.