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Last Updated: Monday, 30 April 2007, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
Probe clears S Korea wolf cloners
Wolf clone, AFP
The wolves are genuine clones, the university panel found
A team of South Korean scientists has been cleared by an investigative panel of manipulating data over its claim to have created the first wolf clones.

The panel said independent testing had verified that the team produced genuine clones of Korean grey wolves, which are an endangered species.

The two wolf clones, born in 2005, were announced to the world last month.

The team was investigated on suspicion of massaging data to boost the cloning success rate for the wolves.

The scientists from Seoul National University (SNU) were once hailed at home as heroes but later seen as an embarrassment after their group's reputation was tainted by allegations of stem cell fraud.

No inflation

The SNU team was once led by the disgraced Hwang Woo-suk, who resigned from his post in December 2005 after a panel found that data had been fabricated in research he led.

Dr Hwang was also listed as an author on the wolf clone study, which was published in the journal Cloning and Stem Cells.

Lee Byeong-chun, AFP
Dr Lee's group has been cleared by the probe
But Kuk Yang, chief of Seoul National University's office of research affairs, said of the most recent research: "We concluded the team did not need or intend to inflate the success rate."

The team, led by veterinary professor Lee Byeong-chun, had made errors in their wolf clones paper.

But it was limited to a data entry in one table, and an investigation of lab records and computer files indicated it was an honest mistake and not an attempt at fraud, Mr Kuk said.

The team asked to correct its paper upon discovering its mistake, he added.

Former breakthrough

Cloning and Stem Cells withdrew the paper from its website earlier this month, pending the results of the university's investigation panel.

Since the team produced the first wolf clones - named Snuwolf and Snuwolffy - in October 2005, six more wolf clones had been born, three of which had since died.

In 2005, an interim investigation into Dr Hwang's previous work with the group found data on producing patient-specific embryonic stem cells had been fabricated. This research had previously been hailed as a breakthrough.

A few weeks later, the investigation panel said another landmark paper on the creation of cloned embryonic stem cells was marred by serious fraud.

Hwang is on trial for fraud, embezzlement and violating the country's bioethics laws.

The team produced the world's first cloned dog - Snuppy - in 2005. This has been verified by independent testing.

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