January 23, 2013
Researcher Denies Seeking “Adventurous” Woman To Carry Neanderthal Baby
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Several media reports popped up around the web over the past day or two saying Harvard Medical School genetics expert George Church was looking for an adventurous woman who could carry and give birth to a Neanderthal baby. But as fast as the stories went up, Church was criticizing them for jumping the gun.
He said in an interview with the Associated Press Tuesday that he and Harvard “have no projects, no plans, we have no papers, no grants,” to find a capable woman to carry a Neanderthal baby.
But the media was quick to point out that he was in fact supporting such an idea.
Church said those reports are based on a misunderstanding of an interview he gave Der Spiegel, a German magazine. In that interview, the magazine had spoken to him about his new book, “Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves.”
He said there is a brief moment in the book that mentions a plausible scenario of bringing back Neanderthals, and the process would require an “adventurous” woman to play the role of surrogate mother.
But is it even possible to perform such a feat?
Neanderthals died out soon after modern humans arrived in Europe, some 40,000 years ago. DNA, which has been recovered from ancient fossils, would have to be injected in human cells to make an embryo, which could then be implanted in a surrogate mother.
But such a process would face many ethical barriers, as well as safety issues, and the need for societal approval, said Church.
Scientists have talked about bringing back long-extinct animals, such as the Woolly mammoth. That has its own ethical issues as well, although not as troubling as reviving Neanderthals, he noted.
He said the whole idea may not particularly be the best idea, but he does think it makes for good conversation, and “hopefully for several years we can have a calm discussion about it."
"It's way better to think of these things in advance," Church concluded in the interview.