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Time to Clone Neanderthals?

In response to the discovery that scientists might soon recover a full Neanderthal genome, William Saletan wrestles with the ethical obstacles to cloning our dearly departed ancestors. He asks: We know roughly how the sequence of life ran forward in time. What about running it backward? How would you..


In response to the discovery that scientists might soon recover a full Neanderthal genome, William Saletan wrestles with the ethical obstacles to cloning our dearly departed ancestors. He asks:We know roughly how the sequence of life ran forward in time. What about running it backward? How would you feel about rewinding human evolution to a species that's almost like us, but not quite?Because of direct opposition to human cloning (by lots of groups), some scientists are proposing substituting chimpanzee DNA to recreate a "close-enough" Neanderthal. The question remains: What could we learn from recreating a neanderthal? Would this be an act of playing God (or, at least, mad scientist)? Is the endeavor a mistake-a waste of funds that could be better used toward finding cures for diseases?Or, on the other hand, could the opportunity to look an extinct species in the face teach us something about our own future? Might it enrich our understanding of why our species (probably) wiped these guys out? Maybe. And, according to John Hawks, a University of Wisconsin paleontologist who understands the technical obstacles to recreating an extinct species, a living breathing Neanderthal might also help us learn how to treat ourselves.Every genetic difference between a Neanderthal and a living person is a potential candidate for a gene or drug therapy...Every one of their genes worked in a human-like creature. We know that none of them were lethal. So, for instance, functional differences between Neanderthals and humans in muscle metabolism might lead to treatments for problems in humans like muscle wasting.What do you think? Should we clone a Neanderthal?(Photo by Bettmann/Corbis from this NYTimes piece on species worth resurrecting.)
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