All sorts of serious considerations with this one.
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.
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.
This idea raises serious ethical conundrums greater even than the controversial area of cloning in general. The odds that this child will live is low. But it’s a human. Yet, if it DOES live, it is an oddity, a freak. Sadly, it will be a novelty. What sort of life is that? Is that fair? Should we be resurrecting Neanderthal life? So many questions and no “right” answers.
UPDATE (21-Jan-2013) Covered by The Guardian. They note “this kind of experiment is illegal in Britain and many other countries.”
UPDATE (22-Jan-2013) It appears to have been a mistranslation. The professor really didn’t say that he was going to do this.
“The real story here is how these stories have percolated and changed in different ways,” George M. Church, a Harvard geneticist who helped kick off the Human Genome Project, told the Herald last night.
He blames a mistake in an article he says was written off an interview in the German magazine Der Spiegel, badly misinterpreting what he said — that such a cloning might theoretically be possible someday — and arriving at the conclusion that he was actively looking for a woman to bear a cave baby with DNA scavenged from ancient Neanderthal bones. He suggested poor translation skills may be part of the problem.
“I’m certainly not advocating it,” Church said. “I’m saying, if it is technically possible someday, we need to start talking about it today.”
It’s nice to have this sorted out. Took a while.