A Harvard professor** who once helped map the human genome is now gaining fame in a new way. He is seeking an "adventurous woman" to give birth to the first Neanderthal baby born in thousands of years. No, it's not Jurassic Park or science that is technically possible, if not totally impractical. This could really happen at some point. Maybe.
There is just one problem. Professor George Church needs a woman who would be willing to carry and birth the product of an experiment where artificial Neanderthal DNA from bone samples would be placed into stem cells, injected into an embryo, and then implanted. Wow. Sounds fun. Sign me up!
In an interview with Der Spiegel magazine, professor George Church says that it's technically possible and that, while his job isn't to say whether it's a good idea, it's an absolutely feasible one. Crazy, right? But is it?
According to Church, the ancient human ancestor known as the Neanderthal could actually be the key to increasing human longevity. He told the magazine that it wasn't just "curiosity" that is driving him.
... curiosity may be part of it, but it's not the most important driving force. The main goal is to increase diversity. The one thing that is bad for society is low diversity. This is true for culture or evolution, for species and also for whole societies. If you become a monoculture, you are at great risk of perishing. Therefore the recreation of Neanderthals would be mainly a question of societal risk avoidance.
What, at first blush, sounds totally insane is actually kind of making sense now, right? Damn science! In all seriousness, although I am not volunteering my uterus, I could see why a woman might be willing to do this. Why not be on the cutting edge of science?
Of course, there are all kinds of questions that I am sure Church could answer -- would the baby learn to talk? How would he/she be different from other babies? What would that mean for school? For his or her life? Would they hate being different?
Hmmm. The more questions I ask, the less I like the idea. As a mother myself, I know any woman who did this would be donating more than her womb. Few moms would be willing to walk away from their baby and leave him or her in the care of scientists. What kind of mom would that make them? So the ethical questions about the quality of life of the infant would give me great pause.
I guess I am not "adventurous" enough, after all. Dang. And it sounded like so much fun!
It feels like a dare issued to womankind: Who isn't going to be worried about the social ramifications and will be willing to put their child on the line for the sake of science? Who is willing to take the chance that the baby they grow in their belly for nine months is actually a dangerous experiment gone very wrong?
Not me. But it will be interesting to see if this ever really could happen.
Would you ever consider doing this?
***Editor's Note: This story has been revealed as a hoax by Professor Church.
Image via erix!/Flickr