December 29, 2005

Focus Turns to South Korean’s Cloned Dog Claim

SEOUL -- A South Korean investigation panel looking into the works of a disgraced scientist said on Thursday it could not yet reach a conclusion on whether his team produced the world's first cloned dog.

The same Seoul National University panel dealt a devastating blow to scientist Hwang Woo-suk, saying there was no data to back the fundamental claim in a landmark 2005 paper that Hwang's team had produced the world's first tailored embryonic stem cells.

A few months after Hwang grabbed headlines with the May paper on the tailored stem cells, he was back in the spotlight again. This time it was with an Afghan hound puppy named Snuppy, which Hwang claimed was the world's first cloned dog.

A DNA testing lab in Seoul said on Thursday it concluded Snuppy was an actual clone based on blood tests it conducted.

"Our testing indicates Snuppy is a cloned dog," said Lee Seung-jae, the chief executive of DNA testing lab Humanpass Inc.

Lee said by telephone that Hwang had approached the lab in late November to conduct tests on Snuppy. The lab is not a part of the investigation into Hwang's work being conducted by the Seoul National University panel.

But an investigation panel member said separately the process of verifying a cloned dog is more difficult than it may seem.

Dogs are considered one of the most difficult animals to clone because of their reproductive cycle.

Snuppy, short for Seoul National University puppy, was born on April 24 after a normal, full-term pregnancy in a yellow Labrador surrogate mother.