The Other I

January 24, 2013

A gift of life?

Filed under: Intriguing Science,Questions beyond Science — theotheri @ 9:51 pm

I was aghast to read yesterday that a professor at Harvard’s Medical School is seeking a woman to carry the embryo of a Neanderthal baby.  George Church believes he can reconstruct the DNA of the Neanderthals, and is seeking a surrogate mother for our extinct human relative.

I am not aghast for religious reasons.  I am aghast because I think this reflects a terrifying lack of sensitivity and respect for life.  This is a human child Church wants to bring into life.  It is not a member of Homo Sapiens, but our cousin Homo Neanderthalis.  Folklore represents Neanderthal man rather like a club-wielding thug with limited intelligence.

But archaeology is rendering this characterization as a chauvinist assumption of Homo sapiens rather than the reality.  Neanderthalis was a species that buried its dead, made musical instruments, and we are now know interbred in some places with our own species.  Either they copied our tools or we copied theirs- probably both.  We were cousins.  Although we like to point out that the brain of Homo sapiens is bigger than any body else’s, Neanderthal’s brain was larger.  There isn’t a lot of evidence that he died out because he wasn’t intelligent enough.

So as a scientific experiment, geneticists are going to try to bring a child of this species to live on our planet.  Are there any plans for rearing this human child?  Any concerns about its potential isolation?  Will it be treated like a laboratory animal subject to experiments and tests all its life?  Will it be granted human rights?  And what about the “mother”?  Having born the child in her womb for presumably nine months, will she then pass it over to – to whom?  its presumed owners?

And what might be the benefits if such an experiment were to succeed?  Presumably Church believes he will earn a place in history, if not in infamy.  But apart from personal gain, are there great scientific benefits that might arise from this endeavour?  My own imagination fails to identify potential gains sufficient to justify the attempt.

I hope George Church fails comprehensively and utterly.

Unfortunately, if Church doesn’t do it, that doesn’t mean somebody else won’t.





  1. I recently watched a public television program about Neanderthals. It seems they’ve been upgraded. They apparently even had better technology than our own ancestors, including an industrial technique for producing a bonding material for use in affixing spear points to shafts, etc.–the first industrial technology. They also clearly had the physiology for speech, and must have used it to produce all the other clever (i.e. human) things they did.

    Also, they weren’t really so bad-looking after all. The actors who played them looked different from our own ancestors, but very human. The principal Neanderthal had a hooked nose, though, and bore a resemblance to a famous American actor who happens to be Jewish! The Cro-Magnon looked like a Knight of the Round Table. His nose was so straight you could have used it to survey a building site.

    And then… And then, they did a DNA test, 1,000 samples from all parts of the world, to see who had the most Neanderthal genes in the current human population (they’ve known for some time there was hanky-panky going on). Surprise! Europeans! Specifically, people from Tuscany. Go figure.

    The least? (Almost none): Sub-Saharan Africans. Then Asians. Well, what a shock. Neanderthals turn out to have bigger brains than us, invented precision tools we couldn’t duplicate till modern times, had an industrial-grade technology, language, used makeup…were general all-around smart SOBs. And guess who has the most Neanderthal genes today?

    Sorry about that, you folks in Ghana and Botswana. Just when we had decided to let you into the human race, most of us, we get this new information about Neanderthal genes (the use or purpose of which today in our DNA is not known, of course, if any). And you Chinese? Nice try. But no cigar.

    So, Terry, if they clone a Neanderthal, maybe will we have to acknowledge her as a superior life form rather than put her in a cage and sell tickets. And think of all those Yuppies lining up to get a piece of her DNA for their offspring to get a leg-up on the other little applicants for a place in The Very Best White Pre-School Money Can Buy.


    Comment by pianomusicman — January 28, 2013 @ 11:07 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for the additional input. You have a few more details on the upgrade of the Neanderthals than I have. But I’m not surprised. It makes the potential DNA experiment even more appalling, doesn’t it? Even if such a child is brilliant, can talk and play music and make tools, do you trust Homo sapiens to recognize it? If we didn’t recognize it before, we won’t recognize an equal human being in a mere* laboratory* animal. And what if such a child reaches adulthood? what about companionship? what about sexual needs? I doubt he or she would be allowed to compete on a level playing field with members of our superior species, do you?

      Oh dear, it makes worrying about environmental pollution look simple. Terry

      On Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 11:07 PM, The Other I


      Comment by Terry Sissons — January 29, 2013 @ 3:42 pm | Reply

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