Errors cast doubt on landmark stem cell cloning paper

px Human embryonic stem cell colony phase
Human embryonic stem cell, via Wikimedia Commons.

Just recently, a paper in Cell by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon National Primate Research Center has been dominating all discussions — scientific, ethical, political — on the human side of genetics. It was, supposedly, the first proven case of successful human cloning. We’ve already written a feature about it and shared several stories on the topic here at the GLP.

Now the scientific backlash has begun. Any piece of science that ruffles this many features is bound to receive extra scrutiny from the scientific community … and the initial results are not good. Errors — sloppy, embarrassing errors — are coming to light. According to New Scientist, “anonymous scientists noted online that his paper contains duplicated and mislabeled images and plots.”

The author has apparently acknowledged that there are errors, and is working on preparing a proper statement with the editors of his journal. He stands by his original claim. The gist of the criticism is an old saw in the world of science: the author rushed to publication, got too excited, made sloppy mistakes. Reuters points out (rightfully so) that the paper’s three-day turn around in the peer-review process is almost unheard of, raising doubts about how well Cell handled the publication process as well.

The history of human stem cell cloning is already famous for one false start. In 2004, South Korean researcher Hwang Woo-suk became infamous after his proclaimed success at cloning human stem cells was proven fraudulent.

From here out, everything will be in the hands of Mitalipov’s fellow scientists. To his credit, Mitalipov had apparently been in just as much of a rush distribute the stem cell lines he used to encourage his colleagues to replicate his results. Whether or not anyone else is able to replicate his success will be the true test of his claim.

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