Hwang Clones Coyotes, Scores Headlines

Posted by Pete Shanks October 19, 2011
Biopolitical Times
Politican, coyote and scientist

As cloning-based stem cell research hits the headlines again, with renewed controversy about women's eggs, so too does the world's most notorious (former) practitioner, Hwang Woo-Suk. With Provincial Governor Kim Moon-Soo at his side, he formally donated eight cloned, endangered coyotes to the province, in a ceremony at an animal rescue shelter in South Korea.

Hwang not only had his published papers about human embryonic stem cells  withdrawn as fraudulent, he also embezzled government funds and his abuse of the women whose eggs he used was unconscionable. He was convicted of trading in women's eggs, a scandal that helped bring his misdeeds to public attention. He lost the right to do human research, but retained enough support to set up his own laboratory to do animal work.

He first made his reputation by cloning dogs, and more recently he has also cloned pigs and wolves. This time, he claims to have a new technique, though the press reports don't explain the novelty. He used coyote skin cells, enucleated dog eggs and dog surrogates.

The Governor was there because Gyeonggi province has been supporting Hwang and a team of 48 since 2009: "The successful cloning of the coyote not only means the preservation of an endangered species, but also an expansion of the country's tourism industry," explained the Governor. Hwang, notes the BBC, is using the connection in an attempt to "re-establish himself as a leading figure in global science."

Indeed, it's not entirely clear who is really playing whom for publicity. According to the Chosun Ibo, the province has only been paying Hwang's Sooam Biotech Research Foundation about $43,000 a year (50 million Won), perhaps supplemented by some animal feed. Hwang says he is working on cloning an African wild dog, but the Governor is the one making extreme claims about what is possible: He's pushing for dinosaurs or, at least, a mammoth.

Yes, mammoths again. They come up every few months, and ABC News took the opportunity to promote some old video on the subject, even though they have also debunked the idea. Bunk/debunk, rinse and repeat; they can keep this up for years. Hwang definitely knows how to make the media dance, and if he can get a politician to provoke journalists for him, well, so much the better, right?

Previously on Biopolitical Times: