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Bringing Neanderthals Back from the Dead

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 22, 2013

 

Kiss me, I'm Neanderthal

Kiss me, I’m Neanderthal

George Church, a genetics professor of Harvard School of Medicine, argues that humans could benefit from the resurrection of the Neanderthal, and that he’s the man, or rather, the demiurge, to make it happen.

We killed off that rival species roughly 33,000 years ago.  But Church has now extracted enough DNA from fossil bones to clone a Neanderthal baby.  The plan would be to splice the Neanderthal genome, or possibly just certain promising pieces of it, onto human stem cells, and implant them in a willing womb. “Now I need an adventurous female human,” he says.   The eternal problem of ambitious male scientists.

“We can clone all kinds of mammals,” Church said in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel.  “So it’s very likely that we could clone a human. Why shouldn’t we be able to do so?”

He adds some caveats about ethics and social consensus.  He also describes the technique future geneticists might be able to use, for instance, to bring back a dinosaur species by grafting extinct DNA onto the ostrich genome.

But he also goes off the deep end about neo-Neanderthals:    “When the time comes to deal with an epidemic or getting off the planet or whatever, it’s conceivable that their way of thinking could be beneficial.”  To give them a social identity, it would be necessary to clone a cohort of Neanderthals.  “They could maybe even create a new neo-Neanderthal culture and become a political force.”

Don’t we already have the Tea Party for that?

And finally, a bid to make the idea politically correct:  “The main goal is to increase diversity. The one thing that is bad for society is low diversity.”

You will probably not be shocked to learn that Church is promoting his new book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves.

Look for him soon on the “Colbert Report.”

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