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Friday, February 20, 2009

Thoughts on neanderthal Cloning By Bob Clark

> Regenerating a Mammoth for $10 Million.
> Published: November 19, 2008
> Scientists are talking for the first time about the old idea of
> resurrecting extinct species as if this staple of science fiction is a
> realistic possibility, saying that a livingmammothcould perhaps be
> regenerated for as little as $10 million.
> The same technology could be applied to any other extinct species from
> which one can obtain hair, horn, hooves, fur or feathers, and which
> went extinct within the last 60,000 years, the effective age limit for
> DNA.
> ...
> "The full genome of the Neanderthal, an ancient human species probably
> driven to extinction by the first modern humans that entered Europe
> some 45,000 years ago, is expected to be recovered shortly. If the mammoth can be resurrected, the same would be technically possible for
> Neanderthals.
> "But the process of genetically engineering a human genome into the
> Neanderthal version would probably raise many objections, as would
> several other aspects of such a project. “Catholic teaching opposes
> all human cloning, and all production of human beings in the
> laboratory, so I do not see how any of this could be ethically
> acceptable in humans,” said Richard Doerflinger, an official with the
> United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
> "Dr. Church said there might be an alternative approach that would
> “alarm a minimal number of people.” The workaround would be to modify
> not a human genome but that of the chimpanzee, which is some 98
> percent similar to that of people. The chimp’s genome would be
> progressively modified until close enough to that of Neanderthals, and
> the embryo brought to term in a chimpanzee.
> “The big issue would be whether enough people felt that a chimp-
> Neanderthal hybrid would be acceptable, and that would be broadly
> discussed before anyone started to work on it,” Dr. Church said."

> Though Neanderthals were undoubtedly thinking creatures, the ethical
> questions about cloning humans might be muted somewhat by recent
> studies that suggest that Neanderthals were genetically distinct from
> modern humans:

> Neandertals Not among Our Ancestors, Study Suggests.
> By Sarah Graham
> May 14, 2003 in Archaeology & Paleontology
> [abstract]

> For info on the capabilities of the Neanderthals see:

> Once We Were Not Alone.
> by Ian Tattersall
> Paintings by Jay H. Matternes
> Scientific American, January 2000
> [free full text]

> Another reasoning creature to interact with might provide us clues
> about how to communicate with other intelligent species in the SETI
> search.

This NY Times article reports on the further decoding of the
Neanderthal genome:

Scientists in Germany Draft Neanderthal Genome.
Published: February 12, 2009
"Possessing the Neanderthal genome raises the possibility of bringing
Neanderthals back to life. Dr. George Church, a leading genome
researcher at the Harvard Medical School, said Thursday that a
Neanderthal could be brought to life with present technology for about
$30 million."
"When the full Neanderthal genome is in hand, could it be made to
produce the living creature its information specifies? Ethical
considerations aside, Dr. Pääbo said, Neanderthals could not be
generated with existing technology. Dr. Church of Harvard disagreed.
He said he would start with the human genome, which is highly similar
to that of Neanderthals, and change the few DNA units required to
convert it into the Neanderthal version.
"This could be done, he said, by splitting the human genome into
30,000 chunks about 100,000 DNA units in length. Each chunk would be
inserted into bacteria and converted to the Neanderthal equivalent by
changing the few DNA units in which the two species differ. The
changed lengths of DNA would then be reassembled into a full
Neanderthal genome. To avoid ethical problems, this genome would be
inserted not into a human cell but into a chimpanzee cell.
"Dr. Church acknowledged that ethical views on such an experiment
would vary widely. But bringing a Neanderthal to birth, he said, would
satisfy the human desire to communicate with other intelligences."

Perhaps Dr. Pääbo should recall that famous statement of Arthur C.

"When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is
possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something
is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

I also like the statement Dr. Church makes in the article that echoes
what I said before that bringing back the Neanderthal could give us
some understanding about communicating with other intelligences.

Here's another NY Times article that's in favor of the idea:

Why Not Bring a Neanderthal to Life?
By John Tierney
February 13, 2009, 11:30 am
"So why not do it? Why not give Harvard’s George Church the money he
says could be used to resurrect a Neanderthal from DNA?
"I’m bracing for a long list of objections from the world’s self-
appointed keepers of bioethics, who must see this new Neanderthal
issue as a research bonanza. Think of the conferences to plan, the
books to publish, the donors to alarm! I can imagine an anti-
Neanderthal alliance between the religious right and the religious
left, like James Dobson and Jeremy Rifkin — what I like to call the
holier-than-thou coalition opposed to new biological technologies.
"But I’m afraid I can’t see the problem. If we discovered a small band
of Neanderthals hidden somewhere, we’d do everything to keep them
alive, just as we try to keep alive so many other endangered
populations of humans and animals — including man-biting mosquitoes
and man-eating polar bears. We’ve also spent lots of money
reintroducing animals into ecosystems from which they had vanished.
Shouldn’t be at least as solicitous to our fellow hominids?"

The ethical problems of bringing back a Neanderthal are explored in a
classic Isaac Asimov story, though in this case by time travel, "The
Ugly Little Boy":

The Ugly Little Boy.

Bob Clark

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