The man who blew the whistle on South Korean cloning specialist Hwang Woo-suk’s fraud has broken his eight-year silence to talk about his role in the scandal and the consequences he has faced.
“The nature of the Hwang scandal is the abuse of other people’s sacrifice and other people’s lives for personal success,” Ryu Young-joon, who was a key figure in Hwang’s laboratory for several years, told scientific journal Nature.
Ryu also said he was responsible for initiating the investigation that cast light on one of the biggest frauds in science.
He received little support and much criticism for what he did. According to online commentators, he was “revealing a petty truth,” “satisfying his arrogance” and “seriously injuring the nation” as the “entire project was stolen by other nations.”
Ryu joined Hwang’s laboratory at Seoul National University in 2002 to lead the study on creating a cloned human embryo and stem cells. Two years later, he wrote the first manuscript of an article on the work, which was later glorified as a breakthrough paving the way for new disease treatment.
While Hwang basked in glory, Ryu left the laboratory after realizing that human cloning had little potential for clinical applications.
After Hwang’s group published a follow-up, Ryu grew suspicious as he knew that it was “illogical” and “difficult” to pump out 11 embryonic stem cell lines in such a short time when important lab members were missing.
Ryu turned to local broadcaster MBC and tipped it off about the possible fraud in Hwang’s research. MBC’s documentary program unveiled the truth behind his achievement -- ethical violations and fraudulent research -- which led Seoul National University to open an investigation.
After the program aired, Ryu’s identity was leaked. Koreans, enraged by his revelations, blackmailed him and hacked his blog, pressuring him to quit his job. Ryu and his family went into hiding for the following months.
Ryu, however, has “no regrets” about his decision and the scandal did not ruin his faith in science, Nature reported.
He is now pursuing a doctoral degree in animal reproductive biology at Seoul National University and working in the pathology department at Kangwon National University.
Meanwhile, Nature recently published an article titled “Cloning Comeback,” featuring Hwang’s recent findings on cloning.
By Ock Hyun-ju, Intern reporter (firstname.lastname@example.org)