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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Raising Lab Neanderthals


Harvard Professor George Church thinks that he will see a Neanderthal baby in his lifetime born of "an extremely adventurous female human", as he explained in an interview with Der Spiegel. He considers that this would be a good thing, as these ancient people might have genes which would strengthen genetic diversity.  He overlooks the fact that modern humans already have Neanderthal genetic material.


Here are some extracts from the interview:

SPIEGEL: So let's talk about possible benefits of a Neanderthal in this world.

Church: Well, Neanderthals might think differently than we do. We know that they had a larger cranial size. They could even be more intelligent than us. When the time comes to deal with an epidemic or getting off the planet or whatever, it's conceivable that their way of thinking could be beneficial.

SPIEGEL: How do we have to imagine this: You raise Neanderthals in a lab, ask them to solve problems and thereby study how they think?

Church: No, you would certainly have to create a cohort, so they would have some sense of identity. They could maybe even create a new neo-Neanderthal culture and become a political force.

SPIEGEL: Wouldn't it be ethically problematic to create a Neanderthal just for the sake of scientific curiosity?

Church: Well, curiosity may be part of it, but it's not the most important driving force. The main goal is to increase diversity. The one thing that is bad for society is low diversity. This is true for culture or evolution, for species and also for whole societies. If you become a monoculture, you are at great risk of perishing. Therefore the recreation of Neanderthals would be mainly a question of societal risk avoidance.


The "extremely adventurous female human" is mentioned on pages 11 and 148 of Church's recent book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves.


Related reading: Cloning Neanderthals; Modern Humans and Neanderthal Humans Intermarried; The Nile-Japan Ainu Connection; A Kindling of Ancient Memory; Getting the Facts About Human Origins



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