Hot genes to clone!
That’s the provocative title of an article in this month’s Archaeology magazine exploring the scientific, legal, and ethical considerations involved. Extensive information about the Neanderthal genetic code is available, and the technologic problems can apparently be overcome. Questions remain about how the process might best be accomplished, and whether it should be done at all.
The Neanderthals broke away from the lineage of modern humans around 450,000 years ago… As different as Neanderthals were, they may not have been different enough to be considered a separate species. “There are humans today who are more different from each other in phenotype [physical characteristics],” says John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin… Many of the differences between a Neanderthal clone and a modern human would be due to genetic changes our species has undergone since Neanderthals became extinct… Clones created from a genome that is more than 30,000 years old will not have immunity to a wide variety of diseases, some of which would likely be fatal. They will be lactose intolerant, have difficulty metabolizing alcohol, be prone to developing Alzheimer’s disease, and maybe most importantly, will have brains different from modern people’s…
“I think there would be no question that if you cloned a Neanderthal, that individual would be recognized as having human rights under the Constitution and international treaties,” says Lori Andrews, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law. The law does not define what a human being is, but legal scholars are debating questions of human rights in cases involving genetic engineering…
Hawks believes the barriers to Neanderthal cloning will come down. “We are going to bring back the mammoth… the impetus against doing Neanderthal because it is too weird is going to go away.” He doesn’t think creating a Neanderthal clone is ethical science, but points out that there are always people who are willing to overlook the ethics. “In the end,” Hawks says, “we are going to have a cloned Neanderthal, I’m just sure of it.”
Much more at the link.
The image is a computer-assisted reconstruction of a Neanderthal child by a research team at the University of Zurich.