Prof. Park Se-pill of Jeju National University poses with a newborn cloned black cow in 2009. / Korea Times file
By Kim Tae-gyu
A cloned cow attacked its "creator" last week just ahead of the Chuseok holiday, inflicting injuries on the world-renowned embryologist, who will need eight weeks of medical treatment.
Prof. Park Se-pill at Jeju National University had five of his ribs broken and injured his spine in the Sept. 15 attack, the university on the scenic resort island said Sunday.
"Park was video-recording a black cow, which he cloned from species indigenous to Jeju four years ago, and all of a sudden, it charged and attacked him for 15 minutes," a school official said.
"The 800-kilogram black cow is very strong because its cell donor was the best available. Park could not escape easily because he wore a special suit and long boots. He is now being treated at the university hospital."
The video clips were for reports to officials at the agricultural ministry slated for later this month as the technology for cloning the black cow species is new.
In 2009, Park cloned the black cow from a frozen cell, which was taken from a deceased animal as part of cloning work to technically "revive" the dead cow through the newly born clone.
Back then, the unprecedented breakthrough caught global attention and ever since Park has worked to learn whether it has reproductive ability.
Park said that he would take part in the reports even if he has to be in a wheelchair.
"We didn't have the cow neutered because we have to check its virility. Hence, it often gets very restless," Park said.
The 54-year-old said that the cow is now in a barn and no special measure will be taken despite the incident.
Park has been recognized as one of the world's leading cloning scientists since 2000 when he successfully took out human stem cell lines from embryos for the third time in history.
In particular, his team developed technologies using frozen eggs for cloning experiments _ the procedure that created the four-year-old cloned cow that gave him global recognition.
Taking advantage of his expertise, Park hoped to become the first scientist to establish stem cell batches from cloned human embryos by 2015 to help cure such degenerative diseases as diabetes and Alzheimer's.
What Park vies to achieve is the same as what former Seoul National University Prof. Hwang Woo-suk claimed to have done in 2004 and 2005 ㅡ his feats later proved to have been falsified.
The Hwang case prompted the government to ban research with fresh human eggs in response to the ethical debate in the aftermath.
Instead, scientists have had to depend on a roundabout way of thawing frozen ova, typically leftovers after artificial insemination.
The government is unlikely to lift the restriction on the use of fresh eggs, which are deemed most suitable for therapeutic cloning research, in the near future.
Against this backdrop, Park and his team relied on their knowhow of the freeze-and-thaw process to extract stem cell lines from cloned human embryos.