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Lydia Griffin

Writer - Creative and Non-Fiction and journalist,

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Should we clone and revive Homo Neanderthal?

Scientists at Max Planck Institute have sequenced the complete genome of Neanderthal. What benefits could N. bring to the Sapiens mix of Today? And should interbreeding be contemplated?

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  • Mar 21 2013: NO.

    The ethics are simple. Would you want to be treated this way?

    You are discussing a human being. The child would never have a mother or father of the same species. It would not be able to receive milk from its own mother, or even from another woman of the same species. It would not be raised in a community of its own species, and it might never meet another person of its own species. It is completely possible that socialization with humans will prove to be impossible. It would be raised in an environment very different from the environment in which its species evolved. The medical personnel attending this person would have no training for this species (would you suggest human physicians or veterinarians? Veterinarians might be more flexible, and generally better prepared for the challenge.) When he/she reaches school age, whatever that might be, there would be no teachers with appropriate training. The problems for this person as an adult are impossible to imagine, but one is obvious: what would be this person's legal status? We could hardly expect a Neanderthal to behave responsibly according to our laws, but it would be completely unethical to withhold from this person the human rights that we all enjoy.

    If it lived, it would be a cruel life.

    • Mar 25 2013: While I agree that the life of this child, or population might be a cruel one, it is only because it would effectively be a "test subject'.

      But if the science claiming H Sapiens interbred repeatedly and successfully with Neanderthals is true, then the differences between the species are superficial at best, and social integration was already happening long ago. So the issues of parenting, care, ethics, socializing and medical training may actually be moot. Or at least, they may be issues that our species has dealt with before, perhaps even successfully.

      While you paint an almost cinematic picture of one possible life of a cloned neanderthal, I believe that many other scenarios could be explored. To say the child would grow up in such isolation is dramatic in light of the science claiming our shared genetics (and the implicit social integration) with Neanderthals. You're playing on our heart strings to get us to agree with you in this scenario.

      In anything like your scenario, yes the act of cloning would be an ethical abomination. Tantamount to human torture. But other scenarios could be attempted. Ones where the "subject" is never treated as a subject at all, but as the human cohort they may have always been. Should other scenarios be attempted? Maybe, but not for a long time, and not till we have other planets where we can send an entire neanderthal colony.
      • Mar 25 2013: "Maybe, but not for a long time, and not till we have other planets where we can send an entire neanderthal colony."

        Agreed, especially with the first word, maybe. The science claiming interbreeding with Neanderthals is still new. Before such an experiment could remotely be considered ethical we would need much more research and knowledge, confirming that the Neanderthals were very much like we are today. It would still be very much an experiment, with many unknowns. The baby might get terribly sick from its first swallow of milk, and we would have no idea what was causing the problem. It might be an allergy that anyone might have. Also, this experiment should wait until the child can be raised in a culture free of prejudices and discrimination.
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    Mar 25 2013: Are we sure there aren't already Neanderthals among us?
  • Mar 25 2013: Is there not sufficient evidence that Neanderthals did interbreed with modern H. Sapiens?
    If this is true, then a number of the concerns about cloning them may not be a problem at all

    For one both, the two species are unlikely to be more than superficially different if viable interbreeding can occur and those offspring can also reproduce successfully. Modern humans and Neanderthals would have had to overcome behavioral and cultural differences in order to breed and raise children. (rape instances not included)
    IF mixing occurred, then it's probable that some social/cultural mixing took place as well. (i.e. H. Sapiens born to and raised by Neanderthals, and vice versa). Even if sometimes by force or necessity.

    It seems the two species had to have been similar enough to address their differences in culture, family, education, behavior, and ethics. So cloning them may prove to be as simple as cloning an entire population and integrating them with humans from birth so that

    In fact, if we did breed with Neanderthals, then aren't they already present in innumerable ways? Mightn't we find that what we learn from a clone is redundant and anticlimactic? and at such a high ethical price too!

    and how much would we learn about ourselves and our world from Neanderthals, that we can't learn from focusing on the real social problems before us? Problems that threaten to leave US extinct, if left unaddressed!

    One of our problems is that our discoveries are accelerating our ability to dream beyond our ability to comprehend (or care about?) long term, global consequences. We may want to slow down on the cloning, but we definitely should keep talking about controversial and groundbreaking technologies. The more we discuss these questions, however "esoteric", the more likely we are to proceed with caution, with ethical guidelines and with hopeful solidarity!
  • Mar 24 2013: No,we have enough freaks on this planet.
  • Mar 24 2013: Nobodies watched "Encino Man"??? It's based on actual events....

    . nah.
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    Mar 24 2013: I think I wrote somewhere that the flip side of technology is that you can only see its effect in short term. Same goes with applied science.
    I have a strong gut feeling that tinkering with genetic codes, after a point, can have dangerous effects on us. For the instant question, H.N. lived and went extinct under conditions and reasons we don't have full grasp over. We have practical limits of seeing the consequences of things up to a distance - biological evolution hugely surpasses that limit.
    Moreover, human ingenuity has well deserved issues to engage with. We are not in control of our living conditions, health, education, social discrimination and even human rights. The reality being so, concepts like bringing back H.N.s appear esoteric to me.
    My opinion entirely.
  • Mar 23 2013: Great. The H.N Voting Rights Act of 2030. The great H.N/H.S.S. marriage debate. Westboro Baptist holding up signs reading "God Hates Gay Caveman!"

    On the darker side, if a live H.N. were proven to be a COMPLETELY separate species, Monsanto would alter the genome slightly, patent it, and put those big, strong bastards to work.
    • Mar 25 2013: I shudder to think of that Brave New World.
  • Mar 23 2013: There is so much science refuses to test, because it could disprove the so called giants in science. In the light test to and from the moon, light could not maintain in its wave form. By the time the wave got back from the trip, only individual photons were left, so science claims. Can you imagine what would happen if scientists installed a laser light on a probe, from a million miles out?
    Science refuses to test, because space will likely break apart the wave. Why else won't science test it?

    Challenge all in science. Most scientists are taught cut and paste and like lawyers, the super majority merely do as they are told.
    • Mar 25 2013: Challenging what is believed based on new observations is at the heart of science. Science challenges itself by definition. Galilleo challenged the church and was incarcerated, but he didn't stop doing "science". He didn't do what he was told. He challenged the authority. In doing so, he changed the world for us all, removing one more of the shackles the church had on the collective human mind.
      Science IS challenge. Anyone in science who is not challenging himself/herself, a peer, a teacher, an elder, a congregation, a courtroom, another scientist or any other authority is NOT doing science!
      • Mar 25 2013: Do you think you can DEFEND science today? Evolution science is corrupt and easily provable, except to evolutionists. They are the flat earthers of today.
  • Mar 23 2013: If Neanderthal could be brought back and they responded to all the stimuli that today's babies and adults do, wouldn't that prove that man isand always has been, a product of his environment? I should have said,-- if Neanderthal responded in much the same ways as today's babies.
  • Mar 23 2013: I doubt seriously that will ever happen. It could prove something that would be embarrassing to evolutionists.
  • Mar 25 2013: The vast majority of evolutionary science, is based on supposition.
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    Mar 25 2013: Neanderthal and Sapiens belong to the genus Homo. Apes in the sense of primates, then. So that's not the point. I will research a little on the issue of Neanderthal DNA in Sapiens. I would posit to Bernard that Neanderthal were very self-aware, could imagine, but perhaps did not have a "theory of mind." The more this discussion goes on, the more confused I am feeling. I follow Fabio and previous participants on this issue, but I remain wanting to know more about the Neanderthal DNA I might be carrying - and why I am carrying it. Thing is, I am confused, not being a geneticist: how can I carry Neanderthal DNA but be Sapiens? Sapiens is not descended from Neanderthal. If anything, it would be the other way round? Neanderthal as a throw-back? Puzzlements! Can someone enlighten me before the end of this discussion? Thanks to All.
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    Mar 25 2013: Hmm.
    Interesting question.
    I'm not sure, because "apes" are only just self-aware (red dot test), while other animals aren't really.
    While if the Neanderthal weren't self-aware (and didn't have a theory of mind, and could imagine) I couldn't see any reason why we couldn't revive Neanderthal man and experiment on it.
    While at the same time, I'm not sure the Neanderthal man would like it very much.
    I mean this debate completely depends how much ultily "us" would gain, which I view can't really be predicted for me, because I don't know what uses it would gain us.
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    Mar 25 2013: No. Seems a bit cruel. They were people too. Should we revive dead modern homo sapiens?

    I guess we all carry some Neanderthal DNA, so in a way they still survive in us.
    • Mar 25 2013: Lets say you are the scientist. You see the real Neanderthal skull with the huge eye sockets huge brow ridges and the huge nasal cavity. Do you as a caring human being, use a human embryo for the cloning process?
  • Mar 25 2013: Talk, talk, talk, no proof. Science chooses not to prove its claims, when it has the chance. Science is a sham.
    • Eric K

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      Mar 27 2013: I'm sorry, I saw this and I couldn't just ignore it. I just want say this... I'm not sure you know what science is. Science is the "systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation" (Dictionary.com). Science is proof fundamentally. In this particular case, 'science' not only proved the little bits it has been able to develop on this topic thus far, but explained how it plans to progress in the future. There are no claims that need proving. While I completely respect everybody's religious views, my head is physically hurt at the thought of someone shooting down science promoting something that has not at all proved a single one of its claims, and has had its chances to do so for 2000 years. Seems kind of ironic to me.
      • Mar 27 2013: Then what evidence of dark matter? What of gravity? what of light theory? what of red shift, blue shift? Evolution has destroyed real science. Your laughter just shows your closed mindedness, but you really can't be held responsible for being unable to defend your copy and paste schooling.

        By the way, if you could choose, would you use a human embryo or a chimp embryo, to test sciences bragging, that Neanderthal is part human, to children.
  • Mar 25 2013: Aww come on, clone the chimp, I dare ya. Science won't clone it, because its an ape, nothing more. Science wouldn't dare take the chance and clone Neanderthal, because it would prove one way or the other. Science is lying through its teeth. Make science prove it, challenge science to prove its claims. Even then science will refuse to prove it. science knows Neanderthal is an ape, nothing more.
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      • Mar 25 2013: Read the following and point out the ignorances, if you can. If you can't, then your first reply to me is that of someone that believes whatever they're told. This is not school.

        The genome sequence was generated from a toe bone discovered in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia in 2010. The bone is described in Mednikova (Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia 2011. 39: 129-138).

        DNA sequences were generated on the Illumina HiSeq platform and constitute an average 50-fold coverage of the genome. 99.9% of the 1.7GB of uniquely mappable DNA sequences in the human genome are covered at least ten times.
        Contamination with modern human DNA, estimated from mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences, is around 1%.

        The figure shows a tree relating this genome to the genomes of Neandertals from Croatia, from Germany and from the Caucasus as well as the Denisovan genome recovered from a finger bone excavated at Deniosva Cave. It shows that this individual is closely related to these other Neandertals. Thus, both Neandertals and Denisovans have inhabited this cave in southern Siberia, presumably at different times.
  • Mar 24 2013: I believe if someone was to they would get much hate from the rest of the world. Being that Homo Neanderthal so human like, much more than chimps, I believe many people would feel it would be inhuman to keep it in a zoo or cage, But on the other hand the neanderthal could be too dangerous to release to the public. Imagine someone much like a human but with animal instincts. The Homo Neanderthal could very easily rape or kill someone. I think it's just a bad idea until we know more about what were doing.
  • Mar 24 2013: The whole de-extinction issue is starting to become more real with the actual de-extinction of extinct species. Neanderthal is of course just one species that is extinct. Some easier species to de-extinct have been re-introduced in small quantities but as yet are limited to zoos and research projects. of interest is the intermediate stages needed to create the environment in which an extinct genome is activated as a blastocyst, once that has been achieved then picking the host species for the first few introductory samples is critical once you have enough of them however they can begin to breed on their own.

    Care should be taken to design a breeding population that has enough distance between versions of the genome to keep from becoming inbred, but that is just a matter of introducing enough variation in the genome sequences actually introduced.
  • Mar 24 2013: You might want to do some research on Neanderthal. Neanderthal was actually ---
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    Mar 24 2013: And might I add a wonderful saying I saw in a clothes catalogue (Yes: genius comes in all vessels!): I used to be indecisive... But now I am not sure.
    • Mar 24 2013: That's hella funny... I'ma use that one.
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    Mar 24 2013: A perfect plot for a new love story. Boy neanderthal, girl homo sapiens and the villain the species gap. A love story needs a girl and a boy and a villain which prevents them from coming together.
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      Mar 24 2013: Ah! The Beauty of Dreaming... We Sapiens do that well, Adesh. Part of our species loveliness. Neanderthal must have dreamt too, obviously. My cat dreams aloud all the time. The problem remains. I come down in this discussion on the side of "dream on, mon coco" as my grandmother would say. I wish we could revive H.N., for strictly sentimental reasons, the underdog attraction bullied by Sapiens, etc. But we do not know the circumstances of their extinction (Thank you, Pabitra), and we are not ready to take responsibility for creating new beings when we cannot decently manage our own kind. One day, perhaps. When I posted the discussion, I was considering what fresh infusions to our culture and genetic pool might inject - positively - into Sapiens, which seems in dire need of some re-tooling. I was not considering that we continue to evolve as a species. Best to see where we are headed before we start vamping up any on-going recipes!
  • Mar 24 2013: I am late to the party so excuse me if my questions are repeating questions that have already been asked but I would have to believe that if this does become possible ,it would begin as a fetus being nurtured with what every fetus in a modern society would be feed it would be introduced into an enviornment that was much different than the one his ancestors lived in I do not see any difference except in physical development and that might be altered by better nuitrition as far intelligence goes we know that they could make tools and they had fire and they knew how to find shelter under those conditions they sound pretty intelligent to me
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    Mar 23 2013: Hello Toine Stolk! Perhaps we all agree that we need to draft a plan for/against these types of possible developments in the next 100 years? It is awesome that we know we could do this, and more. More awesome still would be to know we know nothing... and think hard about these issues. Thanks for your input, best - Lydia
  • Mar 23 2013: Hmmmm.... Reviving homo neanderthal... Quite interesting subject but if I may feffer to TRON (recent one)

    You have the species.who are unknown to the aboriginals of the system you take them in house them but use them to your will and dispose them as you like...

    The point I'm trying to make is we are dealing with entire different human species and not the modern man kind. If we revive or create a lot of them.. There is an extinct human species walking around us living in the shadow of modern humans because we will see them as a great achievement and not as a human being they will be tested onmonitored aand never be able to live a normal life in the first century that happens. We might even have to deal with their primitive instincts at some point.

    I say its awesome that they know they can do it.

    But on the other hand are they thinking all the consequences trough on what the impact may be on us as modern humans trying to live with homo neanderthals...
  • Mar 21 2013: Pardon my bleeding heart, but it seems a little cruel. If it starts, where does it stop?
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      Mar 21 2013: Perfect point. But if we can - since one day soon we will "can" - we should elaborate the ethics of the thing. Someone soon (next 50 years?) will clone a dinosaur, or a ... Neanderthal. Funding appears to be only obstacle and we are on the slippery slopes already.
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        Mar 24 2013: Very few things are inevitable, apparently not even species death (individual death and taxes notwithstanding). So slopes don't have to be so slippery towards catastrophe. I am not so possessed by fear of consequences as by confidence . There does not have to be a catastrophe.
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          Mar 24 2013: Another glory of Sapiens: We know how to hope. We seem to excel at that most excellently. I thank you Timothy for the up-side look. That half-full glass looks good right about now!
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    Mar 21 2013: ZX, so right! I would love to meet Neanderthal men, women and children; but would we ever allow them to be free? I doubt it. Brain size is relevant, yes. But somehow I have the feeling that Homo N. would have a different kind of intelligence (for one thing, our cultural accretions and evolutions would be missing), like a whale or an elephant or a dolphin. What say you?
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    Mar 21 2013: G'day Lydia

    We have living Neanderthals in Australia so no they don't need to clone Neanderthals.....Joking, well not really with some of the people I've dealt with in my life time!!!


    PS Why not?
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      Mar 21 2013: So they say, ZX. Having the full "undiluted" genome is another thing altogether. The ethics of the issue, injecting a separate branch of Homo into a planet that knows precious little togetherness between populations of even a single species, would at first blush appear not only indefensible but also immoral. But the re-wind possibilities are tantalizing (and tantalizingly tempting!) re. unforeseen cultural, medical, or other benefits. The perils of exploitation of an intellectually weaker cousin lurk. The real question is: have we as a species not grown up at all in the last 30,000 years? Will we ever be capable of bi-species co-habitation?
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        • Mar 25 2013: Why does everyone assume that the childs life will be loveless? The Ikea Monkey shows that even smaller primates will tend to be given love by adoptive families if they are offered the chance to be adopted out. There is nothing different between this and any other experimental subject that happens to be an orphan.

          The Ethics of experimenting on another human species are questionable, but that is what ethics are for, to answer questions that are hard because they raise concerns.