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Choe Sang-Hun reported from Seoul and Elisabeth Rosenthal from New York.

SEOUL A landmark scientific paper on cloning that shot a South Korean scientist, Hwang Woo Suk, to international stardom was an "intentional fabrication" orchestrated by Hwang, a university panel charged Friday. Hwang resigned from the university and apologized for his actions.

Offering the first specific details of the most sensational case of scientific fraud in recent years, the Seoul National University panel not only pledged to impose an unspecified heavy punishment on Hwang - until recently hailed as a national hero in South Korea - but also announced it was investigating his other high-profile achievements for veracity.

"I apologize to the people for creating an unspeakable shock and disappointment," said Hwang, surrounded by weeping students. "I step down as professor of Seoul National University."

The announcement had a huge intellectual impact because Hwang's lab is the only one in the world that has claimed a number of scientific accomplishments. It is now unclear if these are possible.

"This is very dismaying and demoralizing, because this was a great group with enormous expertise and we all thought if anyone could do it, it would be them," said Stephen Minger, a leader in stem cell research at Kings College London, who visited the lab earlier this year. "Now it looks like we've been hoodwinked and it's just so damaging to the image of the field."

Hwang's lab was the only one in the world that said it had succeeded in cloning human cells, making new human embryos from single adult cells.

The paper that has been declared fraudulent appeared in Science magazine. In it, Hwang said he had created such embryos with extreme efficiency, making the process medically valuable. Cells cultivated from such embryos, called stem cells, could be crucial for studying diseases, such as diabetes and Parkinsons, and in treating patients.

Investigators declared Friday that at least 9 of the 11 stem cell lines that Hwang said he had created by cloning were fakes.

The actual damage to stem cell research was "somewhat limited," Minger said, because many of these cell lines can also be created using frozen human embryos that are unwanted after in vitro fertilization.

All other labs create stem cells in this manner, although religious objections to the use of embryos has made such research nearly impossible in the United States.

The announcement by Seoul National University, which examined data from Hwang's lab and questioned members of his research team, was the first confirmation of a series of allegations that have cast doubt on all of Hwang's purported scientific breakthroughs.

But Hwang continues to maintain that, despite some fraudulent data, he invented the technology needed to clone human embryos and to produce stem cells that genetically match patients.

"Technology for patient-specific embryonic stem cells belongs to South Korea," Hwang said before leaving his lab. "And you will find out that this is true."

The South Korean government, which supported Hwang as the symbol of its drive to carve out a niche in biotechnology, admitted to "crushing misery" on Friday and said it planned to halt research funds for the scientist.

But the government vowed to support other stem cell scientists "so as not to frustrate the people's hopes."

The announcement Friday further sapped confidence among South Koreans who have invested much of their national pride in Hwang and his stem cell research. The government has sought to establish stem cell technology as a lucrative national industry.

Die-hard supporters, including some patients, insisted that Hwang be given a second chance.

Although Hwang has retracted his paper for the Washington-based Science magazine, citing "human errors," Roe Jung Hye, dean of research affairs at Seoul National University, said at the news conference that the erroneous data "were not accidental mistakes, but were an intentional fabrication."

Roe alleged that Hwang had created only two stem cell lines by March 15, when he submitted his paper to Science, but had concocted DNA fingerprinting and other lab data to make it look as if he had produced 11 lines that genetically matched patients.

The paper was published in June.

"We determined that this is a grave misconduct that damages the foundation of science," Roe said.

Hwang's purported breakthroughs came at a speed that stunned the world. In a February 2004 paper, also published in Science, he reported that he had become the first to clone a human embryo by transferring an adult cell's nucleus into an egg, and extracting a stem cell line from it. He used 242 eggs to create that single line.

In his June paper, Hwang said that he not only had made the 11 lines of stem cells, each cloned from a different patient, but also had vastly improved his technique, creating them with only 185 eggs. In an August paper in the London-based journal Nature, Hwang unveiled Snuppy, a cloned Afghan hound.

"We believe that the number of eggs he used was far more than he has reported," Roe said.

A former associate of Hwang's, Roh Sung Il, said Hwang may have used 1,100 eggs for his June paper alone. If that is indeed the case, the efficiency of the process is so low that it is probably not medically useful.

Roe said: "There is no way the fabrication was possible without Dr. Hwang's intervention. He partly admitted to this and our conclusion is supported by testimonies from other researchers."

"Dr. Hwang cannot escape taking grave responsibility," she said.

Science, Nature and other journals are scrutinizing the previous publications of Hwang and his colleagues.

Experts and cloning supporters said they feared that Hwang's downfall might damage the image of what was already a controversial field.

"I vividly remember the day Dr. Hwang met my son in April 2004," said the Reverend Kim Je Eun, a Methodist pastor whose 10-year-old son uses a wheelchair after a car accident. "My son asked him, 'Doctor, can you make me stand up and walk again?"'

"And Dr. Hwang said, 'You will walk again, I promise,"' said Kim, whose son was one of the 11 patients reported in Hwang's June paper. "To me, Dr. Hwang seemed a chance that comes only once in a thousand years."

"Now I am utterly bewildered," he said after a pause. "But I still believe that Dr. Hwang has the fundamental technology or that he is the closest scientist to that technology. We should not abandon him and his talent."



Man, they need to talk to the Star Wars universe. They got clones up the wazzu over there.:googly:
 
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