Wanted: ‘Adventurous woman’ to give birth to Neanderthal man – Harvard professor seeks mother for cloned cave baby
Any Volunteers? No?
A scientist claims to have enough DNA to start cloning a neanderthal baby and is now looking for “an adventurous woman” to give birth to a neanderthal baby.
- Professor George Church of Harvard Medical School believes he can reconstruct Neanderthal DNA
- His ambitious plan requires a human volunteer willing to allow the DNA to be put into stem cells, then a human embryo
They’re usually thought of as a brutish, primitive species.
So what woman would want to give birth to a Neanderthal baby?
Yet this incredible scenario is the plan of one of the world’s leading geneticists, who is seeking a volunteer to help bring man’s long-extinct close relative back to life.
Professor George Church of Harvard Medical School believes he can reconstruct Neanderthal DNA and resurrect the species which became extinct 33,000 years ago.
His scheme is reminiscent of Jurassic Park but, while in the film dinosaurs were created in a laboratory, Professor Church’s ambitious plan requires a human volunteer.
He said his analysis of Neanderthal genetic code using samples from bones is complete enough to reconstruct their DNA.
He said: ‘Now I need an adventurous female human.
‘It depends on a hell of a lot of things, but I think it can be done.’
Professor Church’s plan would begin by artificially creating Neanderthal DNA based on genetic code found in fossil remains. He would put this DNA into stem cells.
These would be injected into cells from a human embryo in the early stages of life.
It is thought that the stem cells would steer the development of the hybrid embryo on Neanderthal lines, rather than human ones.
February 26, 2013 (Breakpoint.org) – In 1856, workers at a German quarry found some bones in a cave. They took the bones to a local teacher, Johan Karl Fuhlrott.
To Fuhlrott, while the bones appeared human, they were unlike those of any living European. Eventually, scientists concluded that the bones belong to an extinct species of hominid which they named after the place where the bones were found: the Neander River Valley, or Neanderthal in German.
Paleontologists estimate that Homo neanderthalensis were extinct no later than 25,000 years ago. Yet if one scientist has his way, Neanderthals could make a comeback.
George Church is a molecular geneticist who teaches at both Harvard and MIT. He recently made headlines when he told the German magazine Der Spiegel that it’s possible that he could see the birth of a Neanderthal baby within his lifetime.
After all, we’ve already sequenced an entire Neanderthal genome. Advances in the field of synthetic biology have made it possible to “read gene sequences into computers . . . alter them and then print a modified gene into living cells.”
All that’s missing is an “extremely adventurous female human” and perfecting human cloning, which Church views as “very likely,” technologically-speaking.
This begs the question of why we would want to bring back the Neanderthals in the first place. After all, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum’s character in “Jurassic Park,” Neanderthals had their shot, and they blew it.
Church’s argument for reversing their extinction is that “Neanderthals might think differently than we do.” This difference, coupled with their larger cranial size, might make them handy to have around “when the time comes to deal with an epidemic or getting off the planet or whatever.”
If that sounds less than persuasive, it’s because those aren’t reasons, but rationalizations. Resurrecting the Neanderthal is a small part of a larger project that includes changing the human genome, and in the process, changing what we mean by the word “species.”
Reading the interview in Der Spiegel, what came to mind was a cross between Jurassic Park and the Island of Doctor Moreau. And like the protagonists of Crichton’s and Wells’ novels, Church seems fairly certain about the rightness of what he is proposing, and his and other scientists’ ability to pull it off.
Thus the German interviewer was on the mark when he told Church, “First you propose to change the 3-billion-year-old genetic code. Then you explain how you want to create a new and better man. Is it any wonder to you when people accuse you of playing God?”
Speaking of God, when asked about his religious beliefs, the ironically-named Church replied “I have faith that science is a good thing.”
Of course, science can be a good thing — the issue is whether science alone can decide what ought and ought not to be done. Not even the best-intentioned scientists know what constitutes “a new and better man.”
What’s on display here, folks, is scientism, which posits that science alone can “yield true knowledge about man and society.” If Neanderthals make a comeback — Church understates the difficulty of such an endeavor — it will happen because we can, not because we should.
It will be the result of “extremely adventurous” scientists deciding that they know what’s best. After all, science is a good thing and they are scientists, right?
Reprinted with permission from Breakpoint.org.
Yesterday, DNews ran the article, Surrogate Mother Wanted for Neanderthal Baby. In it, we told you that Harvard professor of genetics, George Church, proposed finding an “extremely adventurous female human” to serve as a surrogate mother for a cloned Neanderthal baby. Since that article ran, Church has come out saying that’s not what he meant, exactly. He blames the misinterpretation on the poor translation of an interview with him that appeared in the German magazine, Der Spiegel.
“I’m certainly not advocating it,” Church told the Boston Herald. “I’m saying, if it is technically possible someday, we need to start talking about it today.”
A paragraph from his book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves,” clarifies his idea. Church explains that genetic engineering gives researchers a way to start with an intact genome of an animal and change it to the genome of another animal. You could start with an elephant’s genome, for example, and change it into that of a mammoth’s.
“The same technique would work for the Neanderthal,” he writes, “except that you’d start with a stem cell genome from a human adult and gradually reverseengineer it into the Neanderthal genome or a reasonably close equivalent. These stem cells can produce tissues and organs. If society becomes comfortable with cloning and sees value in true human diversity, then the whole Neanderthal creature itself could be cloned by a surrogate mother chimp or an extremely adventurous female human.”
And then today on a radio interview with WBUR’s Tom Ashbrook, Church explained it more. Ashbrook also interviewed Arthur Caplan, head of the division of bioethics at New York University and Jay Keasling, director of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center.
Tom asks, What would the potential benefit be?
“It’s very hard to anticipate what the benefits are of the Apollo Moon shot are, for example. We didn’t precisely describe GPS navigation in the streets,” Church says.
“We may be limited, chauvinistic in the way we think about things,” he says.
“Sometimes we want to have alien intelligences to discuss things with and sometimes we don’t. It’s an open question. It depends on safety to the individuals.”
Tom asks, But didn’t Neanderthals go extinct for a reason?
Church makes the point that yes, they did extinct for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean they were week or unintelligent and it also doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them.
You can listen to the full interview: Is Creating New Life — Maybe Even A Neanderthal — Possible?
Credit: Lonely Planet
In a controversial interview that has ignited commentary across the world, a respected Harvard professor of genetics has suggested an “extremely adventurous female human” might someday serve as surrogate mother for a cloned Neanderthal baby.
Besides saying that the cloning of a live Neanderthal baby would be possible in our lifetime, George Church told Der Spiegel magazine that using stem cells to create a Neanderthal could have significant benefits to society. “The first thing you have to do is to sequence the Neanderthal genome, and that has actually been done,” Church said.
“The next step would be to chop this genome up into, say, 10,000 chunks and then … assemble all the chunks in a human stem cell, which would enable you to finally create a Neanderthal clone,” Church told Der Spiegel.
Scientists completed the first sequence of the Neanderthal genome in 2010, finding genetic evidence suggesting ancestors of modern humans successfully interbred with Neanderthals, at least occasionally. More recent research has suggested Neanderthal DNA makes up 1 percent to 4 percent of the genomes of modern Eurasians. [The 10 Biggest Mysteries of the First Humans]
The benefits, according to Church, include an increase in genetic diversity. “The one thing that is bad for society is low diversity,” Church said. “If you become a monoculture, you are at great risk of perishing. Therefore the recreation of Neanderthals would be mainly a question of societal risk avoidance.”
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‘Adventurous’ Woman Needed as Surrogate for Neanderthal Baby
Are you an adventurous human woman? Adventurous enough to be a surrogate mother for the first Neanderthal baby to be born in 30,000 years?
Harvard geneticist George Church recently told Der Spiegel he’s close to developing the necessary technology to clone a Neanderthal, at which point all he’d need is an “adventurous human woman” — einen abenteuerlustigen weiblichen Menschen — to act as a surrogate mother.
It’s not out of the question at all. As MIT Technology Review‘s Susan Young points out, scientists cloned an extinct subspecies of ibex in 2009. It died immediately, sure. But they still cloned it.
What would that entail? According to a 2008 study of a Neanderthal infant skeleton (from which the above image is taken), “the head of the Neanderthal newborn was somewhat longer than that of a human newborn because of its relatively robust face,” and Neanderthal women generally had a wider birth canal than human women. Neanderthal birth was simpler than human birth, because Neanderthal infants didn’t have to rotate to get to the birth canal, but otherwise the processes were very similar. (Even so, I imagine all but the most adventurous of human women would opt for a C-section in this case.)
Once the baby’s out, though, you’re in good shape — Neanderthal babies are thought to have grown much more quickly than their human counterparts. And Church seems to think that there’ll be a Neanderthal craze, as he told Bloomberg Businessweek last year:
“We have lots of Neanderthal parts around the lab. We are creating Neanderthal cells. Let’s say someone has a healthy, normal Neanderthal baby. Well, then, everyone will want to have a Neanderthal kid. Were they superstrong or supersmart? Who knows? But there’s one way to find out.”