[EDITORIALS]A credible investigationThe controversies surrounding Seoul National University Professor Hwang Woo-suk and his team’s research on embryonic stem cells has risen to a serious level. Questions on whether the cloned stem cells were real, which had until now been “hidden” beneath ethical disputes regarding the process by which human ova were obtained for the research, are now being asked.
This not only damages Dr. Hwang’s research achievements, but also drags down Korea’s credibility in the international science community. But the issue is not one that can be evaded or hastily covered up. We believe it is time for the government to step forward and resolve these controversies by conducting an investigation through a credible institution and revealing the findings.
Thursday on its Newsdesk program, Munhwa Broadcasting Co. reported that the producers of the documentary program “PD Notebook” had conducted DNA analyses on five cloned stem cells that they received from Dr. Hwang and that two of those cells did not have DNA matches with the original somatic cells. The news program reported that the DNA in the three others was “unreadable.” In other words, they were implying that Dr. Hwang’s team could be suspected of fraud although it was internationally acknowledged as being the first cloners of customized embryonic stem cells.
This news was indeed a shock to Koreans, who had been hoping that the ethical disputes would subside after Dr. Hwang held an explanatory press conference. The shock was even greater because not only Dr. Hwang, but also the science magazine Science had been strongly denying the possibility of fabrication. Regardless of which side is proven true, it is certain that it will be fatally affected and will find it difficult to recover from the blow.
According to the producers’ reporting log, the “PD Notebook” production team spent almost a month conducting an investigation to determine whether the stem cells were genuine clones. After one of the cells in MBC’s first DNA analysis proved to be defective, Dr. Hwang’s team refused a second analysis, saying that it could not trust the verification process itself. If that were indeed the reason, it should not have given the broadcasters the stem cells in the first place.
At this point, it is undesirable to inflate suspicions. Since MBC brought up the issue in the first place, it should wait for the results of a credible institution. On the other hand, Dr. Hwang or Professor Curie Ahn must speak directly for themselves. They have the duty to satisfy the curiosity of the people.