If Dr. Paabo and 454 Life Sciences should succeed in reconstructing the entire Neanderthal genome, it might in theory be possible to bring the species back from extinction by inserting the Neanderthal genome into a human egg and having volunteers bear Neanderthal infants. This might be the best possible way of finding out what each Neanderthal gene does, but there would be daunting ethical problems in bringing a Neanderthal child into the world again.You do have to wonder sometimes, both about the scientists and 'ethicist' blue-skying about this, and about the NY Times reporting taking this with a straight face and printing it.
Dr. Paabo said that he could not even imagine how such a project could be accomplished and that in any case ethical concerns "would totally preclude such an experiment."
Dr. Lahn described the idea as "certainly possible but futuristic."
The most serious technical problem would be creating functional chromosomes from Neanderthal DNA. But ethical questions may be less surmountable. "My first consideration would be for a child born alone in the world with no relatives," said Ronald M. Green, an ethicist at Dartmouth College. The risk would be greater if, following the plot line of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," a mate were created as a companion for the lonely Neanderthal. "This was a species we competed with," Dr. Green said. "We would not want to recreate a situation of two competing advanced hominid species."
But Dr. Green said there could be arguments in the future for resurrecting the Neanderthals. "If we learn this is a species that was wrongly pushed off the stage of history, there is something of a moral argument for bringing it back," he said. "But the status quo is not without merit. Curiosity alone could not justify what could be a disaster for both species."
Fortnightly Book, April 26
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