Paper From Scientists Claiming to Clone Human Embryos Has Errors

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   May 29, 2013   |   4:50PM   |   Washington, DC

The scientific community seems to me to be obsessed with cloning. Even with induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology making cloning embryos for stem cell harvesting look like taking the long way around, they still are pursuing somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) the scientific name for cloning.

The announcement that a team in Oregon had successfully created embryos with SCNT (with eggs “donated” from young cash-stripped co-eds) and had extracted stem cells from these embryos (destroying them in the process) was news all over the world.

The findings were published in the journal Cell with unprecedented speed: accepted in 3 days, published in 12. As if it was the breakthrough everyone had been waiting for and Cell was going to speed up the normal review process to let the world know about it. Even though patientspecific pluripotent stem cells had already been created a hundred times over with iPSC technology, cloning had now arrived and the data just couldn’t wait.  How very nonobjective.

Now it seems some minor errors have been found, highlighting the crazy rush to publish. From Nature:

How fast is too fast for review of a scientific article? And who has the responsibility to ensure accuracy? Errors found in a widely acclaimed cloning study have rekindled those questions — and sent the lead author and the journal that published it scrambling to assure the world that the problems did not compromise the findings.

The paper, which was published online by the journal Cell on 15 May (, reported the creation of human embryonic stem-cell lines from cloned human skin cells. The lines are expected to answer fundamental questions about the way in which cells are reprogrammed and also to have potential therapeutic applications.

But last Wednesday, after an anonymous online commenter noted three pairs of duplicated images with conflicting labels in the paper, excitement turned to confusion — and a bit of déjà vu. The last time the same feat was claimed — by then Seoul University professor Woo Suk Hwang — duplicate images were noted anonymously and the breakthrough was later debunked. Nobody is claiming more than sloppiness in the present case, and the authors quickly stepped up to put the record straight….

But many also noted that the paper had been published with blazing speed — Cell accepted it just three days after receiving it and published it online 12 days later — and questioned whether such rapid publication is good for science. “Whatever the explanation is, it’s amazing that there is another issue with a paper in SCNT [somatic-cell nuclear transfer]. The four-day review process was obviously inadequate,” says Arnold Kriegstein, director of the stem-cell programme at the University of California, San Francisco.

No one is claiming that the cloning was fraudulent as it was in the case of Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk of South Korea, but this certainly does feel like deja-vu.

Cloning seems to bring the frenzy. I really don’t think if it was just about stem cells that would be the case. I think the fact that these scientists created cloned embryos that grew long enough to extract stem cells (and may have continued to develop if they had not been destroyed) is the real news. That is what is truly garnering all the attention and is the reason why Cell rushed the paper.



It is time to realize that cloning is not about stem cells. It has always been an incremental push to reproductive cloning. A fact that has not gone noticed before. “Experts” in this Wired News article have called it “inevitable” as did George W. Bush who understood the implications of cloning embryos for research. In 2002, he said:

“Anything other than a total ban on human cloning would be virtually impossible to enforce. Cloned human embryos created for research would be widely available in laboratories and embryo farms. Once cloned embryos were available, implantation would take place. Even the tightest regulations and strict policing would not prevent or detect the birth of cloned babies.”

I think that is the plan, Mr. President. I think that is the plan.