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Like a storyline pulled from the movie "Jurassic Park," a professor at Harvard University says he can clone a long-extinct Neanderthal baby. The only hitch is that he needs a woman who is willing to carry the offspring.
In a recent interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, Harvard University genetics professor George Church, 58, says we may soon be able to clone a Neanderthal by using technology that is rapidly developing. Church's research in the 1980s laid the groundwork for genome sequencing.
In describing the process in which a Neanderthal clone would be created, Church tells Der Spiegel:
The first thing you have to do is to sequence the Neanderthal genome, and that has actually been done. The next step would be to chop this genome up into, say, 10,000 chunks and then synthesize these. Finally, you would introduce these chunks into a human stem cell. If we do that often enough, then we would generate a stem cell line that would get closer and closer to the corresponding sequence of the Neanderthal. We developed the semi-automated procedure required to do that in my lab. Finally, we assemble all the chunks in a human stem cell, which would enable you to finally create a Neanderthal clone.
Two major hurdles would stand in Church's way: Cloning is illegal in many countries, and the search for an "extremely adventurous female human" to serve as a surrogate mother is daunting.
It's believed that Neanderthals have been extinct for at least 33,000 years. A woman would have to be willing to carry the fetus of a species that has not existed in tens of thousands of years.
Church understands the ethical questions that comes along with such a proposal and tells Der Spiegel they could not successfully accomplish the experiment until "human cloning is acceptable to society."
When asked whether creating a Neanderthal for the sake of scientific curiosity is ethically problematic, Church defended the research saying that the main goal is to increase diversity.
Church goes on to say that a cloned Neanderthal would probably not exist alone in a laboratory, but that scientist would certainly have to "create a cohort" to give the clone a sense of identity.
Cloning a Neanderthal isn't the most outrageous idea Church proposed. The professor envisions a world where viruses are fought by changing the genetic code of humans. Doing so could make humans resistant to viruses like influenza, measles or rabies. This technology could be applied to food, as well, making crops resistant to viruses.
Church argues that people should not be scared of the technology because researchers would not take immediate leaps.
"We are not going to be making a virus-resistant human before we make a virus-resistant cow," Church told Der Spiegel.
Read the full interview with on Spiegel.de.
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