Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Foreigner 'Connection'

I suggested in my last post that if Hwang and his supporters want to find a scapegoat, then the best way is to make his Korean opponents look anti-Korean.

Not long after I wrote that post, my wife got off the phone from speaking to our sister-in-law in the southern Korean city of Daegu, having heard from her the rumor that Roh Sung-il -- the director of the MizMedi Women's Hospital and a former friend and colleague of Hwang but who is now opposing him and calling him a fraud -- has a secret contract with an American scientist to supply him with stem cells.

Implying that Roh stole Hwang's stem cells.

Which is why Hwang can't find them.

My wife, naturally, scoffed at the notion that Roh would do such a thing, but our sister-in-law tended to believe that there might be some truth to the rumor.

Sigh . . . the things that people are willing to believe.

As I told my wife, there's nothing magical about a particular line of stem cells supposedly created by Hwang. What Hwang claimed to offer the world was a technique for easily deriving patient-specific stem cells.

Stealing Hwang's stem cells wouldn't do the thief any good since the stem-cells do not carry in their genetic code -- as if by some sort of neo-Lamarckian, acquired trait -- the technique that Hwang claims to have developed.

Besides, stem cells are easily identified through their nuclear material and mitochondria, so any stem-cell line derived from stolen stem cells would be quickly traced to its source.

In short, there is nothing to gain from stealing Hwang's stem cells and much to lose.

Roh Sung-il, a fertility specialist, knows these things very well. The rumor that he stole Hwang's stem cells to sell them to an American scientist is therefore absurd.

But some people in Korea will tend believe it anyway because it exculpates Hwang by implicating a foreigner.


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