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Biotech Science

Stem Cell Fraudster May Have Actually Made Breakthrough 206

Otter writes "Woo Suk Hwang's career swung from fame over his lab's claim of the first stem cells from a cloned human embryo to humiliation when the results were found to be fake. Research at Harvard on Hwang's cells has found that they are actually parthenogenic lines derived from eggs -- perhaps a more important and difficult achievement than what he had been claiming! 'Researchers said that the distinct "genetic fingerprint" of the stem cells means they may be the first in the world to be extracted from embryos produced by the so-called "virgin birth" method, or parthenogenesis. This happens when eggs are stimulated into becoming embryos without ever being fertilised by sperm, and has been achieved in animals. However, before Hwang, no one had managed to produce a human embryo using parthenogenesis which lived long enough to allow the extraction of viable stem cells.'"
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Stem Cell Fraudster May Have Actually Made Breakthrough

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  • Original paper (Score:5, Informative)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Friday August 03, 2007 @01:38PM (#20103989) Journal
    Link to the paper []. I submitted this as a story and didn't want to bomb Cell's servers if it hit the main page...
    • It made it - but your comments go with it - so....
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Otter ( 3800 )
        I know, but even that should cut down on the avalanche at least somewhat.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 03, 2007 @04:18PM (#20106531)
      Soon they will not need men to reproduce, and will begin eliminating us.

      Then all those parallel parking spaces across the world will fall into disuse....wasted real estate....

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        "Soon they will not need men to reproduce, and will begin eliminating us."

        You can be sure that someone will try to patent it ... now that they've managed to get the original researcher out of the picture ...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 03, 2007 @04:16PM (#20106451)
    I managed to achieve cold fusion while cooking my breakfast in the microwave this morning.
  • by crossb0nez ( 1078925 ) on Friday August 03, 2007 @04:17PM (#20106473)
    This has been done Once before in history... :)
    • by aquabat ( 724032 ) on Friday August 03, 2007 @04:19PM (#20106535) Journal

      This has been done Once before in history... :)
      Jesus Christ! That's pretty amazing!
      • by HTH NE1 ( 675604 ) on Friday August 03, 2007 @04:29PM (#20106681)
        Jesus Christ! That's pretty amazing! To produce a male offspring by parthenogenesis, the mother would have to be a chimera formed between her and a fraternal twin, and somehow produced an egg from the male-chimeric half's cells, which then underwent parthenogenesis.

        Now the probabilities are approaching miraculous.

        Of course, that would mean that Jesus was genetically Mary's twin brother.
        • Chimera? Are we talking about the upside-down head kind or the croco-lion-wolf kind?

          Sorry. You say Chimera and I think FMA.

          But seriously, that's a very interesting question. Would that I still had mod points for the day.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Roman consulate: Your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong. Especially for...sister! So, you have a twin sister. Your feelings have now betrayed her, too. The Wise Men was wise to hide her from me. Now his failure is complete. If you will not turn to the roman high priests, then perhaps she will...

          (so obligatory)
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by NaugaHunter ( 639364 )
          To produce a male offspring by parthenogenesis, the mother would have to be a chimera formed between her and a fraternal twin, and somehow produced an egg from the male-chimeric half's cells, which then underwent parthenogenesis.
          So that's how Jesus' midi-chlorian level was so high!

          Of course, that would mean that Jesus was genetically Mary's twin brother.
          So hers were the same level? Now I'm confused.
        • by lawpoop ( 604919 )

          Of course, that would mean that Jesus was genetically Mary's twin brother.
          That would have profound theological insights. Mary, mother of God, daughter of God? That's as weird as Jesus being God *and* being the Son of God!
        • A much simpler explanation would be that Jesus was actually a woman. After all, doesn't the New Testament say:

          Blessed be those who lower the seat after using the toilet, for they show thoughtfulness toward those who shall come after them. Yea verily men, thou art of whom I speak!

          I think that's from the Sermon on the Mound :)

        • Unless, of course, God put a completely synthetic fertilized ovum in Mary's womb and just used her as a mobile incubator.
    • We are talking about Darth Vader right? (A long time ago in a galaxy far far away...)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Aslan72 ( 647654 )
      According to Christian theology, sin nature comes in through the man which was why Jesus was perfect and sinless. I'd be interested to see if a human could come from this sort of procedure and what they would be like; theologically they'd have no sin nature. Wow, there's something to wrap your head around.
      • Um, no. When the Bible refers to "man", it means "mankind". Jesus was half-mankind, half-God. He still was tempted by the sinful nature of man (e.g. the devil tempting Jesus in the desert), but he was able to resist the temptation. So I'm afraid there's no theological dilemma looming here.

        From the perspective of science, parthenogenesis has long been known to be a possible physical explanation for a real-life virgin birth. It's just that up until now, there has been no solid proof that it could happen in humans.

        I've said it before and I'll say it again. You can find physical explanations for everything that happens in the universe. That's not the point. If you believe in God, then you must believe that it's his Universe that follows his Laws. Which means that everything that happens has an explanation inside the universe. The only question is, did it happen because an extra-universal God made it happen (some of these events have pretty freaky odds) or because it was simply a big coincidence? That's an answer that science can't provide (at least yet) and where theology comes into play.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Um, no. When the Bible refers to "man", it means "mankind". Jesus was half-mankind, half-God.

          I'm afraid "half" is not well-defined at all in this context. Can you elaborate? Could you also define what you mean by "God" and how that relates to the concept of "half" that you have clarified for me above?

          I've said it before and I'll say it again. You can find physical explanations for everything that happens in the universe. That's not the point. If you believe in God, then you must believe that it's his Uni
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Xtravar ( 725372 )

            What were the odds that a car with the license plate VFD-111 just drove past me?
            That's my license plate, you insensitive clod!

        • First you have to accept that 'virgin birth' meant 'conception without sex', and not that it simply meant 'young woman birth' when applying a translation of a hebrew word to tie Jesus' birth back to the predictions written about in Isaiah 7:14:

          Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

          The King James Version mistranslates the Hebrew word "almah", which means "young woman" as "virgin". (The Hebrew word, "bethulah", mean

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            And Jesus, of course, was called Jesus -- and is not called Emmanuel in any verse in the New Testament.


            "Behold, a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel" (which being interpreted is, "God with us"). --Matthew 1:23 of the New Testament

            • by plunge ( 27239 )
              This is said BY the gospel interpreting the prophecy, not by any actual known person in Jesus' life. There are no references at all to anyone calling Jesus this UNTIL one of the later Gospel writers decided that, given the fact that Jesus had clearly failed to fulfill any of the actual messianic prophecies, they needed to figure out some backup ones to cover. Things like riding on two asses at once (because, yet again, they didn't understand hebrew very well) and just inserting a random angel mentioning a
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by obender ( 546976 )

            The King James Version mistranslates the Hebrew word "almah", which means "young woman" as "virgin".

            The Jewish scholars who translated and compiled the Hebrew scriptures into a Greek version of the Old Testament, translated almah in Isaiah 7:14 as parthenos, which almost always means "virgin". Since these Jewish scholars were well acquainted with the meaning of the old Hebrew words as well as the Greek, their interpretation (developed hundreds of years before Jesus) should be given special weight.

            You can

            • by plunge ( 27239 )
              Those same Jewish scholars also understood that the passage in question was referring to events that happened not long after in the history, and have nothing to do with the Jesus or any paganite miracle. Shouldn't that also be given special weight? Or only when you like?
          • by Eccles ( 932 )
            and shall call his name Immanuel.called Immanuel.


            You are sad,' the Knight said in an anxious tone: `let me sing you a song to comfort you.'

            `Is it very long?' Alice asked, for she had heard a good deal of poetry that day.

            `It's long,' said the Knight, `but very, VERY beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it -- either it brings the TEARS into their eyes, or else -- '

            `Or else what?' said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.

            `Or else it doesn't, you know. The name of the song is called "HADDOCKS'
        • by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Friday August 03, 2007 @05:35PM (#20107579) Homepage
          some of these events have pretty freaky odds

          Precisely. Which is why it makes *far* more sense to believe the obvious: Mary got pregnant out of wedlock, then came up with a clever little tale so she wouldn't be ostracized.

          Honestly, why people turn to magic when simple human behaviour can explain such things, I'll never know.
          • I've never met a Christian whose reason for believing that there's something special about Jesus was that Mary claimed to be a virgin when she got pregnant.
          • by kraada ( 300650 )
            Or you could believe the truth: the original word in the bible translates to "young woman" not virgin; there was a mistranslation along the way, and some people thought "Hey, that's a nice story, we'll keep it" even though it had no basis in the original bible as written . . .
            • Sadly, even [] Wikipedia eventually points out that the Greek 'parthenos'was used for Hebrew 'na`arah' and 'bethulah'. And then, quoting from Wikipedia:

              "Additionally, the Greek-English Lexicon edited by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott lists other meanings for the word:

              [parthenos], I. 1. maiden, girl; virgin, opp. [gyn], "woman". 2. of unmarried women who are not virgins, Iliad 2.514, etc. 3. , [parthenos, h], the Virgin Goddess, as a title of Athena at
        • by naoursla ( 99850 )
          From a Christian viewpoint, Jesus was God and Jesus was a man. He was both -- not half of each.

          What is he now? Is he still man or just God?
    • by bagsc ( 254194 )
      You know, at first I thought: "Finally! An ethical source of stem cells! Christians can't argue that parthenogenic embryos are worth saving!"
      Then I thought: "Wait, Christians thought a parthenogenic embryo WAS saving..."
      A moment later: "Wait, Christians think a parthenogenic embryo can save mankind!"

      I will stop thinking there :)
    • Actually, it was pretty common for celebrity a few thousand years ago to insist the "authorized biography" included:
      - virgin birth
      - a star
      - a prophecy
      - relation to a god

      Examples are:
      -Rome's founder, Romulus, was the Son of the God Mars, and Rea Sivia, a mortal Vestal virgin
      -Alexander the Great (conceived a thunderbolt from Zeus) (Today we just use electricity on the cell)
      -emperor Augustus (son of God Apollo, conceived by a holy-snake)
      -Minerva was the daughter of Jupiter not by sexual union
      -daughter of the r
  • by ArcadeX ( 866171 ) on Friday August 03, 2007 @04:17PM (#20106487)
    The whole lying about the accomplishment aside, I've always said that even if you don't find what you're looking for, humanity is better off for knowing all the other ways of not accomplishing that task vs. no research done at all.
  • basically (Score:5, Funny)

    by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Friday August 03, 2007 @04:18PM (#20106507) Homepage
    Stem Cell Fraudster May Have Actually Made Breakthrough

  • by monkeyboythom ( 796957 ) on Friday August 03, 2007 @04:18PM (#20106509)

    have egg on their face now?

  • Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Aqua_boy17 ( 962670 ) on Friday August 03, 2007 @04:18PM (#20106517)

    Woo Suk Hwang's career...

  • A Better Link (Score:3, Informative)

    by value_added ( 719364 ) on Friday August 03, 2007 @04:33PM (#20106751)
    This was covered yesterday on NPR Radio [].
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Friday August 03, 2007 @04:35PM (#20106777) Journal
    All of us know, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, the mitochloreans engineered a parthenogenic birth in Tattoonie.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Actually, since babies created by parthenogenesis are generally going to be female, this is much more likely to be the Orici.
  • by gatkinso ( 15975 ) on Friday August 03, 2007 @04:40PM (#20106835)
    "Um. Yeah. Well... I planned that. It's a feature."
  • by SwiftOne ( 11497 ) on Friday August 03, 2007 @04:59PM (#20107071)
    Disclaimer: I'm no scientist, and I only skimmed the paper, but I have an interest in genetics and an interest in seeing this better covered than the mass media is doing. Corrections most welcome.

    I'm shooting for the non-geneticist version:

    Basic Version:
    a normal human cell has 2 copies of 22 non-sex chromosomes, and 2 sex chromosomes. The "copies" are almost certainly NOT identical to one another, but basically similar. These cells are "diploid" (having 2 of each chromosome) and are considered "somatic cells".

    During normal reproduction, each person will contribute a "germline cell", an ova or a sperm, in which only 1 copy of each chromosome exists ("haploid"). These germline cells merge to create a "zygote" (which is diploid), which eventually becomes an embryo.

    Parthenogenetic reproduction takes a germline cell, and duplicates the genetic material, making a diploid out of a haploid. Such replication happens with normal cells during the process of cell division ("mitosis"), so the real trick is (1) convincing the cell to do this duplication outside the cell division process and (2) convincing the cell that it is no longer a differentiated (specialized) cell, but instead a stem cell.

    One interesting result here is that the parthenogenetic cell is NOT a clone of the parent cell - it will have two copies each of ONE of the copies of each chromosome from the parent, determined effectively at random. In some ways this means a parthenogenetic stem cell is less valuable than a cloned stem cell - it will not be a 100% match, though it will not contain any DNA foreign to the donor. In other ways it opens up all sorts of new areas of study.

    One particular result is that it opens the opportunity for recessives to be studied. (Chromosomes have genes, each that code various proteins that run the bodies mechanics. Most people will therefore have two copies of every gene (having two copies of the chromosomes). Those genes may not be identical. Some genes only have their effects seen ("express") if there isn't another, different, copy of the gene present, and are called recessives. (blue eyes are a common example: A blue-eyed person has both genes as expressing "blue". Two blue eyed parents, having only the "blue" gene (hah!) to pass on to a child, will have a blue-eyed child (barring mutation). (Of course, the body is a big nasty mess of self-referencing code with lots of gotos, so examples tend to be oversimplified). Anyway, most recessives tend to be fairly rare in expressing, since any dominant gene will cover them up. Many recessives are bad. (Cystic Fibrosis is the most common example: 1 bad gene, okay. 2 bad genes: You die) A parthenogenetic process would allow for the study of recessives because you can take ova from a carrier (someone who has 1 copy of the bad gene), find one with the defective gene, put it through the parthenogenesis process, and bam, able to study the effects free of the presence of any other (different) copy of the gene.

    Fun Fact: For 22 Chromosomes, people have two copies of most genes. Sex Chromosomes are not created equal. The X chromosome (every human has 1) has valuable and nifty genes. The Y chromosome (only in men) has very few genes (relatively). As a result, on Men X chromosomes express all recessives, and not on women. (The common example here is red-green colorblindness. Men with a defective gene are out of luck: Color-blind. Women with a defective gene get by if the other copy of the X chromosome has a functioning one. Result: Men are much more likely to be red-green color-blind.
    Some papers a few months ago got some press for exploring the possible effects of this. (Men can serve as a "testing ground" for new mutations on the X chromosome, while women can serve as a judge of whether they are valuable without taking on the extra risk. Practiced through natural selection.)

    Fun Fact #2: Women's cells don't just function with twice the number of X chromosomes though (We tend to react poorly to extra copies
    • So it's worse than reproducing with a sibling. It's like reproducing with yourself. because you take half your chromosomes and duplicate them, thus bring out any recessive traits that might be in that half that you've contributed.

      neat :)
    • Just to add to this, if a woman is color-blind, then I believe it follows that her offspring will indefinitely be color-blind as well, as the husband has not the genetic material to supply for color-vision?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Peaker ( 72084 )
        If a woman is color-blind, all of her sons will also be color-blind.

        Her daughters will only carry a defective gene, but unless the father is also color-blind, the daughters will not be color-blind.
    • by Rakishi ( 759894 )

      In each cell, one copy of the X will fold up and be largely non-functional. In each cell exactly WHICH copy folds up is essentially random, so women retain their diversity of X chromosome genes. Neat, huh?

      Not quite randomly. Or rather it happens randomly in the embryo at a given point but every descendant of a cell has the same X-chromosome inactive. so you get patches of cells with the same chromosome inactive which leads to mosaicism such as that in calico cats. This also means that human females can have stripes in rare cases.

  • That's right kids: every month a woman murders a precious potential life with her sinful menstruation. No wonder the OT made them sit out alone and think about what they had done.

    Remember guys: everytime you allow a fertile woman to go a month without being impregnated, you make God very very angry.

Loose bits sink chips.