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Committee on Research Integrity Cleared Suspicion Around the Cloned Wolves

  • April 30, 2007
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Summary of the SNU Committee on Research Integrity's finding on the suspicion around a research paper of B.C. Lee of the Veterinary Theriogenology group on wolf cloning.

I. Summary

On March 26, 2007, Seoul National University held a press conference formally announcing that Byeong-chun Lee, a professor in the Laboratory of Veterinary Theriogenology in the Department of Veterinary Sciences, had published a research paper in the journal Cloning and Stem Cells, detailing that his lab had successfully cloned two wolves of an endangered species using the donor eggs of a dog.

However, on March 31, 2007, several young scientists raised questions on the data on the message board of a Korean Bio-engineering Center website, commenting that previous research on dog cloning was intentionally underestimated in the paper in order to inflate the success rate of wolf cloning results, and that the wolves` DNA sequences had been erroneously reported.
On April 5, 2007, Seoul National University received a letter demanding a formal CRI (Committee on Research Integrity) investigation and on April 6, 2007, the University`s CRI set up an investigation committee consisting of six anonymous members and one research inspector to commence the investigation. The investigation committee completed its investigation on April 25, 2007 and filed a report to CRI.

II. Investigation details and conclusions regarding each case

1) The authenticity of the cloned wolves
Two external genetic identification institutions (Seoul National University Laboratory of Forensic Medicine and SNP Genetics) have successfully confirmed the authenticity of the two cloned wolves which are now exhibited at Seoul Grand Park, and have also confirmed the genetic relationship between the wolves which donated the somatic cells, the dogs which donated the eggs, and the dogs which acted as surrogate mothers.

2) Errors in the mitochondrial DNA sequences
One of the egg donor dogs had died before the investigation began; therefore no identification in regard to that dog was possible. However, tests confirmed that the mitochondrial DNA sequences of one of the cloned wolves and one of the remaining donor dogs was matched. The error that occurred in Table 2 of the research paper was due ti the genetic identification institute, which had been commissioned by Professor Lee's team at the beginning of the research undertaken, erroneously labeling DNA sequence position 15458 as 15485 in its reference. Professor Lee's team had not discovered this error. Furthermore, one Professor Park of KAIST, who was commissioned to re-examine the results, also did not discover this error, and it was hence found by the investigation committee that the DNA sequence correlated once the reference number had been corrected. The investigation committee also discovered two more unintentional errors: 1) On the microsatellite DNA, one peak of the markers for surrogate wolves 1 and 2 were switched around. 2) One more peak , the base guanosine (G) at the 15938 position, is missing in the mitochondrial DNA sequence.

3) Inflation of the success rates in wolf cloning
The success rate in regard to cloning (dog SNUPPY) came under suspicion because it was reported as 0.09% instead of 0.18%. However, out of 123 attempts, only two clones were born (an initial success rate of 0.18%), but this changed as one of the clones later died (a final success rate of 0.09%). Therefore, the reported rate of cloning success was not judged as an intentional inflation of results, but rather an error in terms of authoring the research paper. To verify this, the success rate of animals during the past two years of this research were checked Snuppy 0.18% (born individuals/transplanted eggs). 1.6% (impregnated individuals/successful surrogates); Snuwolf, Snuwolffy 0.08%, 16.7%; Bona, Peace, Hope 1.80%, 25.0%; Six male wolves 1.61%, 23.5% -- and these showed that the initial success rate generally increased, hence confirming a correlating success rate, and that the results were not intentionally altered.

4) Regarding any miscellaneous suspicious points
No other suspicious points in regard to the intentional fabrication of results were discovered, and it was also found that the disposal of laboratory waste, and appropriate handling of the animals had conformed to animal protection laws.

5) Other findings on Professor Lee`s laboratory
It has been ruled that the main factor which contributed to results being published erroneously in the research paper was that, during the time the research on cloning wolves was undertaken, no laboratory notes were compiled, and hence, there was an imperfect record of the details. It has also been found that the objects related to the experiments were insufficiently collected and preserved during the research. Another contributing factor was the lack of acknowledgement of previous research done on the same topic, and furthermore, there lacked systematic analysis of the results.

April 27 2007
Seoul National University Committee on Research Integrity (SNU CRI)
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