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Should Fit Right In

Cloning A Neanderthal Baby

By James Donahue

There has been a strange story floating about the web concerning George Church, a Harvard medical school geneticist, who is looking for a surrogate to help him clone a Neanderthal baby from 33,000-year-old genetic material.

Church told the Daily Mail that he believes he can artificially reconstruct Neanderthal DNA using samples from fossilized bones and inject this into human stem cells. This, in turn, could be injected into a human embryo in its early stages of life.

He believes the altered DNA would steer the development of the embryo into a becoming a Neanderthal rather than a normal human baby.

All he needs now is "an adventurous female human" who would be willing to be the surrogate mother of this strange child. "It depends on a hell of a lot of things, but I think it can be done," Church said.

The experimental cloning of extinct animals has been going on ever since Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell successfully produced Dolly, a cloned sheep in Scotland in 1996. The research has since branched out to cloning extinct animals. In 2009 the extinct bucardo, a subspecies Spanish ibex, or mountain goat, was successfully produced from a frozen skin sample. The newborn was alive but it died immediately from respiratory failure. The birth, however, suggests that the resurrection of extinct species may be possible.

So why would Church want to bring Neanderthal humanoids back into existence, and what woman would want to volunteer as a surrogate for such a creature?

Church said in an interview with Spiegel that the skulls of the Neanderthals were roughly the same size as contemporary humans so he believes they were more intelligent than the stereotype we perceive of them.

"Neanderthals might think differently than we do," he told Der Spiegel. "They could even be more intelligent than us. When the time comes to deal with an epidemic or getting off the planet it’s conceivable that their way of thinking could be beneficial."

Even if such a cloned creature could be successfully produced, there is no guarantee that it would be a welcome addition to contemporary society. Could Church be producing the equivalent of a Frankenstein monster to walk among us? What horrors might it endure living in a world of humans who already appear unable to love and accept others of different skin colors and religious convictions? And what woman would dare to bear and parent such a creature?

We probably should not be too concerned, however. England, like many other nations, has laws on the books making human cloning illegal. But would a Neanderthal be considered legally human?

From human observation over the years, this writer wonders if the Neanderthals aren’t already among us. They strangely disappeared at about the time Homo sapiens were making their appearance in the world. This entertains a plausible theory that there was inter-breeding occurring and the Neanderthals eventually got absorbed into the mix.

If he pulls it off, the Church cloned baby might fit in just fine.