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Stem cell fraudster made 'virgin birth' breakthrough

Silver lining for Korean science scandal

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The investigation into frauds committed by Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk has revealed that he unwittingly made a sought-after stem cell breakthrough.

In the course of research, which culminated with false claims that stem cells had been extracted from a cloned human embryo, Hwang's team succeded in extracting cells from eggs that had undergone parthenogenesis.

In humans, parthenogenesis occurs when an unfertilised egg develops into an early stage embryo. It's a natural phenomenon which, in mammals, ends with the embryo being rejected by the womb. However, some animal species, such as the Komodo dragon, quite commonly reproduce by "virgin births".

The ability to extract embryonic stem cells produced by parthenogenesis means they will be genetically identical to the egg donor. The upshot is a supply of therapeutic cells for women which won't be rejected by their immune system, without the need for cloning.

The world first was discovered by Harvard and University of Cambridge geneticists who analysed Hwang's results as part of the inquiry into the scandal. In his discredited research papers, Hwang said he had removed all the egg donors' genetic material. ®

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