WANTED: Adventurous Human Female Willing to Anger the Gods, Bear Hybrid Abomination.
If you’re the kind of carefree woman who loves science and doesn’t mind treating her womb like an amusement park, pay close attention, because there may be a fun opportunity here. Dr. George Church, a genetics professor at Harvard Medical School, recently raised a few eyebrows (and hackles) when he discussed the possibility of cloning a Neanderthal. “The first thing you have to do is to sequence the Neanderthal genome, and that has actually been done,” said Church. “The next step would be to chop this genome up into, say, 10,000 chunks and then synthesize them. Finally, you would introduce these chunks into a human stem cell. If we do that often enough, then we would generate a stem cell line that would get closer and closer to the corresponding sequence of the Neanderthal. Finally, we assemble all the chunks in a human stem cell, which would enable you to finally create a Neanderthal clone.”
This may sound complicated, but biotechnology is advancing so quickly that within 20 years, experts believe high school kids will have access to this kind of experiment. But Church says he’ll need one last component: a volunteer. “Now, I need an adventurous female human [to carry the Neanderthal child].” When confronted by journalists, Church stated that he has no plans right now to perform this experiment, but a female volunteer would be necessary since we have no artificial equivalent of the human womb.
Neanderthals have been extinct for almost 45,000 years. Why they disappeared and whether they interacted with modern humans is still a hot debate in paleontology. They were physically stronger than us and may have been just as intelligent, if not smarter. Whether one considers them a sub-species of homo sapiens or a separate species of their own doesn’t change the fact that they were probably quite human in many respects. Many countries have laws against cloning human beings and it’s not clear if or when this kind of experiment will be attempted, but it seems likely that advanced biotechnology will make bringing back a Neanderthal distinctly possible — legal or not.
The ethical problems here are obviously piled high. “Should we be playing God” and, “We shouldn’t necessarily do it just because we can,” are only the most obvious, boring ones. A more interesting problem, at least for the scientists, is that unlike most of their animal experiments, this one can’t end with killing the specimen. This experiment would involve a lifetime commitment to a conscious, communicating being with significant genetic differences from everyone else on the planet. And we’d certainly need to clone more than one. So we’d be creating a race of people and couldn’t just cart them off to some theme park island, no matter how charming Richard Attenborough seems. Neanderthals would have human rights, and we would have a great responsibility to give them a quality, human life.