Nobel Prize for cloning: can it be?

Can the back-to-back &to=http:// ' target=_blank>cloning breakthroughs make Seoul National University professor Hwang Woo-suk South Korea’s first Nobel Prize-winning scientist?

Most of the country’s experts say, ``yes,’’ to the question, but then caution against excessive expectations since Hwang must tide over such challenging issues as ethical debates en route to the honor.

Korea University professor Kim Jong-hun said the possibility of Hwang’s receiving the &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Nobel Prize depends on follow-up research. ``If Hwang can find the technologies for developing stem cells into a variety of specific cells and organs, he will be a sure bet for the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine,’’ Kim said.

Kim added when embryologists succeed in curing hard-to-treat diseases like diabetes or cerebral disorders, Hwang will be granted the prestigious award as a pioneer in the field, reports the Korea Times.

Last year, Hwang, a professor at Seoul National University, and his colleagues became the first scientists to extract stem cells from a cloned human embryo. This week they announced a startling advance: They dramatically improved their efficiency in producing human stem cells, growing 11 new batches that for the first time genetically matched injured or sick patients.

A recent visit to Hwang's lab showed why chopstick-like manual dexterity pays off, as two scientists worked on cloning a pig embryo. One researcher, with her eyes pressed closely to a microscope and wielding the tiniest of needles, poked a hole in a pig egg before gently squeezing out its genetic content. The other, with a straw-like instrument, inserted new genetic material from the cloning candidate pig. It took just minutes, but that work is key to growing the egg into an embryo that's genetically identical to a living animal.

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