S pare a thought for Harvard professor of genetics, George Church. Not only has his recent speculation on the chances of genetic engineering giving rise to a baby Neanderthal been misinterpreted, he's been lumbered for life with a surname that screams headlines: CHURCH SAYS YES TO FREAK BABY!! CHURCH WANTS MORE $$ FOR STEM CELL RESEARCH!!
Thanks to poor language translation of an interview with German magazine, Der Spiegel, professor Church was misinterpreted as being enthusiastic about finding an extremely adventurous female human to serve as surrogate mother for a cloned Neanderthal baby. Naturally calls of Frankenstein followed as soon as the news got out. The Harvard geneticist quickly corrected the misunderstanding: I’m certainly not advocating it, I’m saying, if it is technically possible someday, we need to start talking about it today.
He went on to explain that genetic engineering gives researchers a way to start with an intact genome of an animal and change it to the genome of another animal. An elephant’s genome, for example, could be changed into that of a mammoth’s. The same technique would work for the Neanderthal by using the stem cell genome from a human adult and gradually reverse engineering it into the Neanderthal genome. According to Church the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome has already been done in 2010.
Naturally such speculation immediately raises ethical dilemmas. Should humans be cloning homo cousins or even sapiens themselves? Where will it all lead? Perhaps the more important question is what the prospects of living a normal life would be for a Neanderthal thrust alone into a human world. My guess is none at all. That said, knowing how to do the theoretical science doesn't mean we have to do the applied. But a further guess is that it will happen some time down the track. Professor Church's statement that we should be discussing these issues right now sounds like sage advice.