Having a Neanderthal baby

A Harvard geneticist is seeking a woman to be the surrogate mother of a Neanderthal baby.  From the London Daily Mail:

They’re usually thought of as a brutish, primitive species.

So what woman would want to give birth to a Neanderthal baby?

Yet this incredible scenario is the plan of one of the world’s leading geneticists, who is seeking a volunteer to help bring man’s long-extinct close relative back to life.

Professor George Church of Harvard Medical School believes he can reconstruct Neanderthal DNA and resurrect the species which became extinct 33,000 years ago.

His scheme is reminiscent of Jurassic Park but, while in the film dinosaurs were created in a laboratory, Professor Church’s ambitious plan requires a human volunteer.

He said his analysis of Neanderthal genetic code using samples from bones is complete enough to reconstruct their DNA.

He said: ‘Now I need an adventurous female human.

‘It depends on a hell of a lot of things, but I think it can be done.’

Professor Church’s plan would begin by artificially creating Neanderthal DNA based on genetic code found in fossil remains. He would put this DNA into stem cells.

These would be injected into cells from a human embryo in the early stages of life.

It is thought that the stem cells would steer the development of the hybrid embryo on Neanderthal lines, rather than human ones.

After growing in the lab for a few days, the ‘neo-Neanderthal’ embryo would be implanted in the womb of a surrogate mother – the volunteer. Professor Church, 58, is a pioneer in synthetic biology who helped initiate the Human Genome Project that mapped our DNA.

via ‘Adventurous human woman’ wanted to give birth to Neanderthal man by Harvard professor | Mail Online.

Where do we even start with this?

UPDATE:  But thanks to reader “nqb” for finding this, in which the geneticist says that he was mistranslated and that he isn’t ready to do it yet, at least.  Society first has to accept human cloning.  I was wondering how he would get this by Harvard’s Institutional Review Board, which all universities have to have to approve research projects involving human experimentation.

But still. . . .Someone should write a science fiction book about this scenario.  (Think of the plight of the young Neanderthal as he grows up.  A mother–what would she be feeling?–but no biological father at all.  His adaptations are to a world that no longer exists, and he has no adaptations to today.  He has no tribe.  Not even another member of his sub-species on earth.  How lonely he would be.  How alienated.  The geneticist seems not to even consider such things!  In our book, the Neanderthal would probably use his primeval strength, driven by hopelessness, to do terrible things.  But it would raise the question of who is really the one who is monstrous.

HT:  G.McLoughlin

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  • Sounded cool and interesting till I got to the ” injected into cells from a human embryo” part.
    Like Tard the Grumpy Cat, I have to cut it off there and proclaim, “No!”

  • Pete


  • Maybe a Neaderthal president would have more sense than current leaders.

  • SKPeterson

    That is so ethically problematic I’m not sure why this guy is being given the time of day or why Harvard isn’t stepping in and telling him that you don’t create life as an experiment. Shades of The Truman Show.

  • Paul Reed

    It’s unethical, but it’s an evolutionist lie to claim that Neanderthals aren’t human. They might look slightly different, like races do, but if we were to take a Neanderthal and put him in a coat and tie and he’d walk down the street, you probably wouldn’t even notice.

  • Joe

    Given the size of my eyebrow bridge, I was say Neanderthals are still among us ….

    But seriously, didn’t this guy watch Jurassic Park

  • Joe

    *would* say

  • Tom Hering

    Is anyone asking why? Is there any answer other than “because we can”?

  • WebMonk

    Hey Paul, it’s certainly not an evolutionist lie – they’ve said Neanderthals are part of the human race, just a branch that died off. Your quote about putting them in a coat and tie on the street actually came from an evolutionist paper. (Straus and Cave 1957) However, they were only talking about posture – facial features, body proportions, and body shape are dramatically different.

    That paper’s quote (which was also a joke about people found on the New York subway system and wasn’t intended to be taken literally) has been misused by creationist groups to give a false impression that Neanderthals were almost exactly like modern humans.

    Technical details about Neanderthal body structure aside, this has all the same (and more) moral issues of cloning – treating the baby as a person with full rights and not as a lab experiment, expectations of society’s treatment of the person, potential of dramatic birth defects, etc.

    Toss in the death of the embryo which is used to start the Neanderthal embryo, and there is yet another layer of ethical red flags.

    Cool technical capability, but wildly unethical and immoral to do.

  • WebMonk

    Why he’s being given the time of day? Because it’s a story that has nigh-fantastic technical aspects and because the story is guaranteed to generate lots of attention, which is part of the goal of news organizations.

    Why Harvard hasn’t shut this guy down hard? Because they know this doesn’t have a ghost of a chance of happening at this point, and it is gaining them a ton of publicity.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    This experiment would not pass any ethical review.

    Webmonk is quite correct about Neanderthal appearance. But then again, it has been suggested, with some evidence, that Neanderthals often had reddish hair. So, we could be mistaking the Neanderthal for an unruly Scot…. 🙂

  • Jon

    +1, Paul.

    What’s another name for “Neanderthal Man”? Um, “human.”

  • sg

    So, how much will the volunteer get paid? There is probably some desperately poor woman in India who would do it.


  • Sam

    This reminds me of a quote from Isaac Asimov:

    “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

  • SKPeterson

    WM @ 10:04 – Yes you probably are right about the publicity stunt angle. I would like to think it is more a reflection of how fragile Harvard’s position as a major research institution is becoming that it would act in such a manner and enthusiastically support this research, but I don’t actually see any official commentary about this story from Harvard. The photos accompanying the article appear to be standard stock university photos highlighting Church, a fairly common practice. Also, no one from Harvard is actually quoted. There’s also no mention of this article or Church’s research on the Harvard website under the Science section of the Harvard Gazette.

    Here is another article about the story, which apparently was originally found in Der Spiegel, in which “setting ethical issues aside for the sake of the interview, Church said, ‘the prerequisite would…be that human cloning is acceptable to society.'” So, technically, we might have the scientific capability in the future, but the ethical problems remain.

  • SKPeterson
  • nqb

    Looks like there is no such experiment even close to in the works. Church says it was a translation error:

  • Dr Luther in the 21st Century

    I am not even sure it is technically feasible at least from the perspective of producing a “pure” neanderthal. More goes into appearance, etc. than the DNA in the nucleus.

    Also, it is unethical and immoral as all git out.

  • Jon H.

    Indeed; we can see Neanderthals in charge of the House of Representatives, so why breed more?

  • fjsteve

    And yet, apparently no thought of the suffering it would inevitably bring to the individual–whatever he or she was classified as–as well as the mother. But hey, a little suffering for the sake of progress, right? Practice makes perfect. And once we’ve had enough practice; once we’ve caused enough suffering, we will have successfully created a new species of humanoid. Then we can rightfully call ourselves gods.

  • tODD

    Good work.

  • fjsteve

    I think the correction only means they aren’t ready to do it quite yet.

    Setting ethical issues aside for the sake of the interview, Church said, “the prerequisite would…be that human cloning is acceptable to society.”

    “My role is to determine what’s technologically feasible. All I can do is reduce the risk and increase the benefits,” he told the magazine.

    In other words, “we’ll be ready to go when you guys decide you can stomach it.” I don’t know if calling it a translation error lets him off the hook altogether.

  • SKPeterson

    I wonder how much of the translation error is contained in the ellipsis within his quote.

  • fjsteve

    SKP, could be. It’s what comes after the ellipsis that I find telling. It’s not a question of ethics. Not of right and wrong. Not of causing pain and loss. It’s just a question of acceptability. Again, it seems he’s passing the buck on the question of ethics while proceeding with the technological issues. That tells me he’s already decided which side he’s on.

  • tODD

    Okay, so to some people (Paul @8:35 am, Jon @10:31 am), it’s apparently important that Neanderthals be labeled as “human”? Why?

    I mean, all you have to do is read down to the second paragraph of the relevant Wikipedia article to read that:

    Neanderthals are classified either as a subspecies of Homo sapiens (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) or as a separate species of the same genus (Homo neanderthalensis)
    So obviously Paul’s “evolutionist lie” line is a bit misleading itself.

    Still, I’m afraid I’m missing what appears to be the theological animus behind these comments.

  • tODD

    Sigh. Forgot to turn off the blockquote (@3:50 pm) beginning with “So obviously”.

  • nqb
  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Todd: The theological animus is do be so rabidly creationist that one would condemn over mere language use. Semantic control and all that.

  • tODD

    But Klasie (@4:10 pm), this isn’t even about being a “rabid creationist”. There appears to be some underlying theological point, by which classifying Neanderthals as anything other than a subspecies of Homo sapiens is somehow contrary to Scripture.

    Is this about the biological eisegesis of “according to their kind” such that “kind” can only mean “species”? I’m honestly asking. Because I don’t get the big deal.

  • Grace

        HOW LONG were Adam and Eve in the Garden ?

    And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.Genesis 2:8

      (Not until Genesis 2:8 is it mentioned God planted a garden, until this time was there a garden? it appears there wasn’t. This verse also says God put the man (Adam) in the garden.)

    And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. Genesis 2:15

    Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? Genesis 1:3

      (Adam and Eve had been in the Garden HOW LONG? None of us know the answer to that question, in fact we aren’t even given a clue. It could have been hundreds or a thousand years. It would make sense that in the beginning when they were in the Garden, they didn’t go even close to the tree they were forbidden to eat, but as time passed the woman was tempted, and as we all know disobeyed God.)

    So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. Genesis 3:24

      (The Garden of Eden is obviously a ‘PLACE’ we can see this as God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden. In this way wouldn’t you be able to see that the whole earth was not covered by the garden?

      How long were Adam and Eve in the Garden before they were were driven out? This question, and the length of time they were in the garden is very mind provoking –

    20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
    21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
    22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. Genesis 1

    What was going on in the world at large while Adam and Eve were in the garden? there obviously were life forms, God had made them – how many different things could have taken place OUTSIDE the garden while Adam and Eve enjoyed Paradise before the fall?

    God told us what HE wanted us to know about creation.

    8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

    9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    Isaiah 56

  • sg

    Regarding whether Neanderthals are a separate species vs. race. There isn’t much difference between a dog and a wolf. So, species vs. race is kind of like, well, subjective. Lots of species are so closely related that they can breed with each other and have fertile offspring. That being the case, what is the objective criteria for calling them separate species? Well, with wolves and people, you can say mtDNA. But human groups branch off much like wolves and dogs. If all the aboriginal people of Oceania had died out before Europeans arrived, would they have been labeled a separate species? I mean, it is possible because their bones are really different from say, Chinese. And if they were gone, they couldn’t defend their reputation or demonstrate their humanness. Forensic scientists can determine the race of a human skeleton, so they could have labeled them separate species like they do wolves, especially back then before mtDNA analysis.

    The bottom line is how distant they are and where we want to be drawing lines as to who is human and who is not (even if they are extinct, because their genes are still with us). I don’t think we want to say, if your haplogroup split off before an estimated x years ago, then honey, you ain’t human. Uh, oh, neanderthal genes are extant in modern humans at some fairly low rate. Some indicate recent common ancestors. http://www.cell.com/AJHG/abstract/S0002-9297(12)00324-2

    Okay, google is your friend. Happy hunting

    key words – neanderthal sequence mtDNA common ancestor haplogroup haplotype frequency.

  • Grace

    If some of you want to fall prey to the evolution dump club, so be it – or, if you think you just might be related to a monkey, or any other of their species, perhaps you’ve been staring in the mirror too long.

    It’s to your loss when questioning God’s Word. Many so called educated people, have all but torn out the book of Genesis from their Bible.

    Creation is so obvious, God loves us so much , that HE sent HIS Son to die for us on the Cross, and yet, there are those of you who question DNA, etc., etc, as to how we might be related to ape’s or those who resemble such animals.

    There are countless scientists in every category who DO believe in Creation, NOT Evolution or it’s team mates.

  • sg

    Here is the passage that always gets questions from kids:
    Genesis 1:
    26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all[b] the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

    29 And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. 30 Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. 31 Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”

    But then:
    Genesis 2:
    18 And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.

    21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.

    So, like kids want to know if all this stuff with Adam and sleep and Eve was all on the sixth day, cuz there is a lot more in ch. 2 than that one direct statement in ch. 1 that God created people on the 6th day and it was good and nighty nighty everybody. Well, my kids want to know, anyway.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Todd, I think you are rading too much into it. After having had creationist -type arguments more times than I can remember, it really appears to be not much more than a sophomoric play at language control. AIG has children’s book in which they portray Neanderthals as human variants, and call them the “beetle brow people”. They seem to think that calling some other humanoid a species is comprimising the faith, and leaves the door open for humanoid evolution. Obviously, they cannot stand that.

  • tODD

    Klasie (@34):

    They seem to think that calling some other humanoid a species is comprimising the faith, and leaves the door open for humanoid evolution.

    No, that’s exactly what I was asking about. I don’t get their take on that. Paul Reed (@5) seems to be pretty heavily influenced by AIG or the like, but he’s not explaining himself. Oh well.