Here is what this story sounded like yesterday: Harvard University geneticist George Church seeks a fearless, fertile lady for a trying task—serving as a surrogate mother for the first Neanderthal baby in some 30,000 years. The ideal “adventurous female human” candidate would be impregnated with an embryo fashioned from a current-day human stem cells tweaked into a Neanderthal equivalent.
But, according to Church, that’s not exactly what he said, the Boston Herald reports:
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.”
The Neanderthal genome was first described in 2009. The idea of creating a Neanderthal-like being by using the tools of molecular biology isn’t totally crazy: Such undertakings have been attempted before, but only with non-human animals. In 2009, an extinct bucardo, a subspecies of the Spanish ibex, was cloned from a frozen skin sample. But the newborn died immediately due to respiratory failure. Still, its birth shows that resurrecting extinct species à la Jurassic Park may be possible (though DNA has an expiration date of about 1 million years, so velociraptors likely will not roam the planet again). It’s just not likely to happen anytime soon, and if it does, Church is unlikely to be the one choosing the mother-to-be of the first modern Neanderthal.
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