Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bringing Back Neanderthals... Could We or Should We?

In a June 2011 conference in Dubai on science, religion and modernity, the question “should we clone Neanderthals” was raised. Cloning Neanderthals will help us answer many questions. Such as, according to DISCOVER, “did we mate with Neanderthals, or did we murder them?” how are the Neanderthals related to our own species? What were the Neanderthals actually like? We will actually be able to see and study the Neanderthals, unlike how scientists have to draw analogies between chimps and prehistoric hominids to find out more about the Australopithecus. The benefits of cloning Neanderthals are to be craved for: everyday people will be able to meet with the Neanderthals that broke away from the lineage of modern humans around 450,000 years ago, that evolved larger brains than us, thatdeveloped a wider variety of stone tools and more efficient techniques for making them. But even if we could clone them, should we clone them?

Approximately two years ago, researchers had publishedthe rough draft of the Neanderthal genome. The genome was not perfect, of course; it contained many errors because the DNA obtained was simply prehistoric. Apoptosis, a process where cells begin to break down, takes over within hours of death, as dying cells release enzymes that spoil and scramble the DNA. Since scientists do not have living Neanderthal cells to catalyze the process of cloning, after reconstructing the genome, the re

searchers have to put the right amount of DNA into the chromosomes, and get those chromosomes into the nucleus of a cell. Other scientists suggest the pre-existing idea of tweaking the genetic code in living human cells so that they match up with the Neanderthals. However, for this way to work, scientists may have to make up to millions of changes to a human cell’s DNA. Nevertheless, even if scientists perfect the process of putting a Neanderthal DNA in a cell nucleus, creating a baby clone by moving the cell nucleus into the egg of a related species, in other words, humans, will be gruesome. Even in processes of cloning other living animals, the egg where the cell nucleus has been transferred to often dies, meaning that there will be dead Neanderthal fetuses in a human’s womb. Even since the successful cloning of Snuppy, the first dog clone in 2005, cloning involves trial and error. Are we ready to put humans through this?

Let’s assume that Neanderthals can be easily cloned flawlessly for a moment. In many ways, these Neanderthals will be extremely different, yet similar to the Neanderthals in Geico commercials. In the Geico commercials, the Neanderthal seems like he may fit in, but at the same time, he can be viewed as extremely clueless in the modern world’s society. We simply don’t know what the consequences of successfully cloning a Neanderthal will be. Their brains are different, implying that their consciousness may be drastically different from ours as well. It is also a common belief that they had the power of speech, but then again, some says that is doubtable. According to Andrew Brown, “the minimum ethical thing to do would be to clone 20 or 30.” No one wants to be the only one living of his or her species. We can watch and learn from these 20 or 30 clones. Keep in mind that Neanderthals had traditions and beliefs; they buried their dead, and created mythologies. If we study these clones, we will be studying a brand new set of Neanderthals relative to their ‘enclosure’ (is it even right to put them in an enclosure?). We will NOT be learning more about the original Neanderthals, their culture or myths.

It has become a question of ethics then. In 1997, Stuart Newman attempted to patent the genome of a chimpanzee-human but lost his case because the patent office believes it would violate the 13th amendment prohibitions against slavery. Neanderthals will also be much more “human” than chimpanzee-humans. So what kind of laws will the Neanderthals be under? According to Andrew Moseman, “a Neanderthal could be granted enough legal protection to make doing extensive research on it illegal, not just unethical.” How will a Neanderthal actually live in the current world though? There is an assumed consequence far worse than culture-shock: a Neanderthal from 25,000 years will basically have no immunity to any of the diseases that have evolved since then. We happen to be the lucky ones with the gift evolution has brought to us. Will the Neanderthals want live in our world?

Cloning Neanderthals: Not a Pipedream

Should We Clone Neanderthals?

Should We Clone Neanderthals?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post Peem. I enjoyed your thoughtful discussion. It's definitely an ethical issue first and foremost. Maybe we should stick with cloning mammoths for the moment....