A South Korean scientist whose work on tailored embryonic stem cells has been discredited, coerced junior female colleagues on his team to donate their own eggs for his research, a television network reported late on Tuesday.
A spokesman for Seoul National University said yesterday that its panel investigating Hwang Woo-suk for scientific fraud would not comment on the allegation until it releases its final findings next week.
Hwang, who claimed in a landmark paper published last year that he had made a breakthrough in therapeutic cloning research, was dealt a devastating blow last week by the panel, which said none of his work, published in the journal Science, could be verified.
Junior female researchers felt compelled to subject themselves to painful procedures to extract their eggs and contribute to Hwang's research out of the fear they would otherwise be excluded from academic recognition, a member of his team told MBC TV's investigative program PD Notebook.
The program said the researcher was forced by Hwang to donate her own eggs after she toppled a laboratory petri dish containing ova in March 2003.
"She said she told Professor Hwang she wouldn't go through with the procedure, and she said Professor Hwang got upset and said, `Why not?'" said one researcher, speaking about a colleague on the team.
"She was worried, and it was out of worry that she decided to donate her eggs," said the researcher, whose appearance and voice were altered in the TV interview to shield her identity.
The donor went back to Hwang's laboratory and conducted the cloning experiment on the eggs that she herself had contributed that morning, her colleague said.
"I hope I can forgive myself for not being able to stand up to the professor," the donor wrote in an e-mail message that was provided to MBC.
MBC TV has closely followed questions about Hwang's research and reported in a November that the scientist purposely withheld information about the source of the eggs used in his study.
The researcher, in her mid-20s, said she had received hormone injections to induce ovulation and underwent a general anaesthetic, according to MBC.