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Are You the “Adventurous Human Woman” Science Needs to Give Birth to a Baby Neanderthal?


OK, so science isn’t to the point of genetically engineering a living, breathing Neanderthal baby quite yet. But Harvard geneticist George Church told German site Der Spiegel that they’re getting there, and that when the time comes they’ll need an “adventurous human woman” to be the surrogate.

Scientists reconstructed the Neanderthal genome back in 2009, and in that same year an extinct type of ibex was cloned from a frozen skin sample, though it did die immediately after. So it seems possible that a Neanderthal infant could, eventually, be cloned, though it would need a homo sapiens mother to carry and give birth to it.

Writes GenomeWeb:

According to [Der Spiegel,] Church is currently developing technology in his lab that can be used to make human cells similar to those of Neandertals. Eventually, an “adventurous female human” needs to be found as a surrogate mother for the first Neandertal baby, Church is cited as saying, and, from many individuals, “a kind of Neandertal culture” could arise that could gain “political significance.”

Church doesn’t understand “why many people should be so profoundly upset by these kinds of technologies,” since the concept of biological species is currently changing anyway. Up until now, the notion has been that people cannot exchange DNA with other biological species. “But this barrier will fall,” he says.

Show of hands: Who thinks Church’s quotes here make this whole experiment sound vaguely dystopian in nature? Ian Malcolm’s quote from Jurassic Park springs to mind: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Granted, I don’t actually think that if a Neanderthal baby were cloned it would lead to a scenario in which modern humans and our lesser-evolved brethren had to fight each other to the death for control of planet Earth. All the same. I don’t think I’ll be volunteering.

(via: Gawker)

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  • http://twitter.com/nellydreadful Nelly Dreadful

    It wouldn’t HAVE to lead to human/neanderthal war to be unethical.

    We’re talking about spending nine months bringing a baby into the world who, assuming they survive, will exist only to be studied and satisfy our curiosity, and will have no others of his/her species around (unless you clone several, in which case you are creating an entirely new racial/ethnic group, and that’s another whole headache and a half). I’m all in favour of cloning extinct non-sentient species, but bringing a Homo Sapiens child into the world and raising it requires a lot of thought, effort, consideration, commitment, and love; a Homo Neanderthalis child presumably would require all that AND provide additional challenges. It’s not right or fair to put that on an organism who potentially might be intelligent enough to be messed up by it.

    Stick to mammoths.

  • http://www.facebook.com/carly.hunter.9066 Carly Hunter

    Imagine the life this neanderthal person would have created expressly for scientific study. Neanderthals in there time had there own unique culture they arent just brutish animals. I hope it isnt legal to make human babies for this purpose so why would it be alright to create one of our closest relatives, who most likely were conscious of the world around them in a similar way we are?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=563223409 Vic Horsham

    Now I’ll be honest, in a perfect world I’d be up for volunteering my uterus for this. But there are so MANY issues to worry about. And we don’t live in a perfect world by any means.

    1- What will the legal status of the infant be? Will they have human rights? Will they be entitled to the things humans are considered entitled to? Or will they legally be considered an animal, with no more rights than one? Exactly how much testing are these scientists thinking they’ll be able to do on what is essentially a sentient, sapient, human-like creature born of a human?

    2- What sort of life will the infant have? We have a hard enough time protecting human children from discrimination, bullying and mistreatment based on such superficial things as sex, skin colour, disabilities, sexual orientation etc. I would not trust my fellow human beings not to treat a neanderthal infant even worse.

    3- We would be talking about the first non-human sapient, sentient creature capable of performing language, art and learning on the same level as humans. What sort of impact could the existence of such a being have on animal rights and where we draw the line, as a species, between sapient creatures that we treat as being like us and sapient creatures that we treat as being things we can own, eat and kill? We know, for example, that apes, dolphins and other mammals are sapient, but differentiate between them and us.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Agreed. This whole thing seems to be verging on mad scientist territory.

  • Master Discord

    While the Neanderthal may have died out, they would have been no less human than any of the so-called races that have survived to this day. I suspect, despite all the artist renderings, we’d find that Neanderthal baby to be surprisingly akin to our own.

  • http://twitter.com/Gemmabeta Gemmabeta

    Didn’t they do this on a THURSDAY NEXT novel?

  • Rebecca Pahle

    I think so… I vaguely remember them being in the second.

  • http://twitter.com/Sarakenobi Incredibly Awesome

    I KNOW!!! I was thinking the same thing and look what happened. would they make a bunch? would they eat bugs? would they talk as a collective?

  • http://twitter.com/ChannelDiza Chanel Diaz

    Do these “bright individuals” known as ‘scientists’ ever watch the movies, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” “The Island,” or just science fiction genres of ANYTHING?!

    I felt bad for ‘human clones’ being created to be used as forced “organ-donators.” I felt bad for chimpanzees, orangoutangs, apes, and etc., just because they were sentient-’enough’ to FEEL & THINK. ‘Bad-idea’ reeks all over this.

    I mean, just think the ‘long-term’ instead of the ‘short-term,’ for once, people! …I really, really hope our future is ‘not’ like trying to ‘reason’ with the ‘scientists’ of the Dead Space series….

  • http://www.facebook.com/ashe.samuels Ashe P. Samuels

    You pretty much summed up why this article made me squirm.

  • Anonymous

    Because there’s only love, understanding, and goodwill among the people who are of ONE race at present, right? By all means, let’s introduce a being that is viewed as less intelligent than us, what could POSSIBLY go wrong?

  • http://twitter.com/diefrankenmaus Kate

    The only good news here is that we probably will HAVE to afford neanderthals the same rights and protections as any other human. Why? Because most of us are somewhere between 2 and 4% neanderthal. We interbred with them at some point in our past and we still carry their DNA within us. A good lawyer could make a perfectly valid argument that any laws regarding neanderthals would have to apply to the rest of us, since we are bi-species critters.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kmurnion Katherine Murnion

    In the near future on a remote tropical island, a successful baby Neanderthal is born and raised peacefully among the Homosapiens. The Neanderthal learns the true history of his people in ancient times, when the Homosapien surpassed the Neanderthal and viciously took power of the planet. The Neanderthal patiently waits as the scientists zealously engineer more Neanderthals. Then one day, the Neanderthals escape the island and rise against the Homosapiens lead by the first Neanderthal. After many years of battle, the Neanderthals destroy human civilization and take the planet for themselves hunting and killing the homosapien. Before the Neanderthals can completely destroy every last visage of technological advances, one homosapien a former soldier, is sent through a time portal arriving back before the first Neanderthal was born. The time portal’s unstable nature leaves the soldier horribly scarred, but with unexplainable abilities to control short amounts of time. The portal leaves him weak, but a random young woman passes by, takes pity on him, and takes care of him. Her name is Amy and they fall in love. She learns of his mission to destroy the the lab containing the Neanderthal genome but she knows it will surely be his end and begs him not to go. He leaves her heart broken and goes to the lab, now strong enough and in control of his new powers. Amy shows up and tries to stop him. He destroys the lab anyway with all the scientists inside. Amy is injured in the process and dies in his arms. Her last words declaring she still loves him. He goes on the run but is eventually captured by a top secret government organization and locked away. He quietly whispers to himself, “Forgive me Amy, I had to.”
    END CREDIT SCENE: The soldier sits in an interrogation room. An overhead lamb gently swings from the ceiling casting dark shadows. He is donned in a bright orange jumpsuit and his hands are cuffed. From the shadows emerges Nick Fury, “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers initiative.”

  • Contermass

    The whole article of the print issue is a lot longer than this tiny bit of text, taken out of context. Church himself said more than once, that he backs very strict rules for Genetics in Science, and if they would do such experiments, it has to be very careful. If you had read the article before ranting about “mad scientists” and (really?) “Planet of the Apes” you had noticed that Church talked also about ethics and understanding in context to this intellectual game.

    It is really depressing how deep the fear of science goes, how less educated people are about how science really works, and how easy it seems to talk about Genetics even if you have absolutely no clue in whatsoever.

    Just once more, let’s hear the phrase: “He wants to play GOD!” and running in circles, screaming.

  • http://twitter.com/Super_Widget Joanna

    Can’t tell if science is trolling or…

  • http://www.facebook.com/anatasia.beaverhousen.7 Anatasia Beaverhousen

    I’m all for scientific advances and if they finally become able to recreate the mammoth I’m all for it, but I just keep thinking a Neanderthal baby would spend it’s life being poked and prodded and studied and I can’t help but think that would just be spectacularly unfair to the poor baby.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    No, asshole. No Neanderthal baby. Stop it. Science, stop him.

  • Anonymous

    Science, especially genetics and development, does not work like it does in the movies. This is not something that is going to happen any time soon, if it happens at all. Even if it does we do not know how neanderthals developed, we dont know how long their childhoods were, how much care they needed from parents, what there family situations were like or how long gestation was. We dont know how intelligent they were, we dont know if they were creative or had language or even if they buried their dead. The evidence for how they lived is scanty and contested.

    Having said that I am going to side with Church and say that I dont understand why this upsets people so much. Humanity suffers from a weird fear of being the only intelligent life around, thats why we keep looking for aliens and believing in fairies and trying to teach chimps and crows to speak. If done properly and ethically (which I think is possible) this would be another kind of human, another species of us, and they may not be that different. There isn’t a lot of evidence that H.sapiens and neanderthals fought with each other or that we wiped them out, rather the end of the ice age and the dying off of big game in europe (neanderthals tended to hunt larger heard animals while our ancestors ate a wider variety of smaller prey) that killed them. If we lived with them once why not again?

  • Anonymous

    This annoys me too. Too many people seem to jump to the kind of science that goes on in sci-fi movies. Planet of the Apes, the Island, Jurassic Park and the like not only feature woefully poor science, but have odd strains of anti-intellectuallism through them, the idea being there are things you shouldn’t mess with and the only scientists who would think about doing so are MAD!
    People used to think that dissecting corpses violated the sanctity of life, and anatomists were evil. Anyone who’s ever had surgery should be thankful to the mad scientists.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wendy.middleton.756 Wendy Middleton

    Azimov wrote about this. I think the title was “The ugly little boy”. It did not end well.

  • Anonymous

    No, no, no! Are we going to treat this neanderthal like a human? If yes, then that means setting back our evolution. I know that if we are descended from Europeans we have neanderthal DNA but that’s less than 7%, imagine an offspring with 50%!

    If not treated like a human? We’d have a sentient being that is being experimented on and locked in a cage. If you think PETA was a pain, just imagine the outlash from the majority of people in the world.

    Science’s “image” suffers enough from widespread ignorance, it won’t survive this.

  • http://twitter.com/nachtritter Duke Fleed

    Why are people talking about Neanderthals as being something else than human? They may not be modern human / H. Sapiens, but they are still Homo. They are still human, of a different species maybe, but still human. We refer to them as lesser-evolved because they are not around anymore, but is that fair? Do we actually know for certain that given exposure to modernity, a H. Neanderthalis child couldn’t learn and grow in similar ways to H. Sapiens children? That alone, that capacity for understand and reasoning, is probably why I would oppose this. Because the treatment of that person would be as some sort of ‘other’, some sort of ‘experiment’ he or she might very well understand. That is the reason why I would oppose it.

    There is no way to predict the outcome of this, but there are too many ways in which this could go wrong for everyone involved.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.hunt.773981 Jason Hunt

    Who says religion and science can’t work together… “Church seeks surrogate mother to create neanderthal”. Great tabloid heading there! ;)

  • http://twitter.com/geekofhearts Joe Jordan

    Of course, neanderthals and humans may well have interbred (rather than fought each other) anyway, until we were all one species:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/are-neanderthals-human.html

    (some people doubt this, of course:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/aug/14/study-doubt-human-neanderthal-interbreeding

    )

    However, the thing that would concern me most about this “experiment” would be the ethical implications for the life of the poor kid! A living neanderthal would have to be legally recognised as a human, and so on, in order to guarantee appropriate rights and freedoms within society, but even then there would still be an uncomfortable uniqueness factor – this baby would grow up to be a celebrity (whether loved or hated, or both at different times.)

    I’m not sure even I, the insanely optimistic geek and scientist, could approve of this kind of experiment in a world where we still have serious international aggression problems as a planet, and where people regularly buy into a temporary celebrity culture so easily – I don’t think we’re ready for a baby neanderthal (or indeed, a baby T-Rex.)

    Jurassic Park quotes are disturbingly appropriate here!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.hunt.773981 Jason Hunt

    There is precedence for this sort thing. I saw a documentary once called Encino Man. Despite a few problems neanderthal man seemed to fit in well with modern society.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I remember it well.

  • http://wrongsirwrong.blogspot.com/ Magic Xylophone
  • http://wrongsirwrong.blogspot.com/ Magic Xylophone

    I agree with your moral objection, but two things: sentient species are those that can feel, not those that can think. A bug is sentient. Sapience is the ability to think.

    Also, a lot of paleoanthropologists consider Neanderthals to be a subspecies of Homo sapiens: Homo sapiens neandertalensis vs. Homo sapiens sapiens.

  • http://twitter.com/CrazyCatTeen Abigail Wallace

    I’m trying to figure out if I’m a horrible person. I mean, morally there are plenty of reasons to hesitate. Yet… I’m intrigued. A part of me would be more than willing to try it, maybe even clawing her way to the front of the line.

    But I know that if I were involved in such a way, it would ultimately be much more complicated than I initially imagined (which, I suppose, it how it turns out for most mothers, but still). It would essentially be my son or daughter, so I’d have an ethical obligation to protect it if the experiments got too wacky; but it would also be the subject of a science project for which I was hired, in which case I’d have to do my job and let them run the tests. If I could say 100% that the kid was human, the former obligation would undoubtedly take precedence; if I was 100% certain that the baby was animal, the latter would. But I wouldn’t be sure, so no matter what I did I’d feel like I was doing something wrong.

    And what about while I was carrying it? I’m pro-life, so if I were carrying a human fetus and something went wrong I’d still do everything I could to save it, even if it adversely affected my health. I think I’d be okay having an abortion if I were carrying, say, a chimp, but is this fetus human, or animal? Hopefully such a situation wouldn’t come up, but if it did, would I know what to do?

    And yet my curiosity keeps getting the better of me… but curiosity has to be the worst reason to sign on to motherhood, right?

  • http://twitter.com/ChannelDiza Chanel Diaz

    You’re right about ‘sentient:’ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sentient

    I’ve always used ‘sentient’ to mean “complex/evolved emotions and intelligence,” I really thought that word meant that before. But, ‘sapience’ doesn’t really seem to imply the “ability to think,” but rather “wisdom (which comes with the ability to think).”
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sapience

  • http://twitter.com/ChannelDiza Chanel Diaz

    “Church himself said more than once, that he backs very strict rules for Genetics in Science, and if they would do such experiments, it has to be very careful.”

    

”…you had noticed that Church
    talked also about ethics and understanding in context to this intellectual
    game.”



    Which “article” ‘says’ that? The one in English, that barely says anything more than what was quoted in this ‘specific’ article, the one linked to an article in a ‘different’ language, Gawker and its link, or this ‘specific’ article? And I don’t think Church’s said “ethics” and “understanding” really convinced me my assumption is wrong (“I felt bad for ‘human clones’ being created to be used as forced “organ-donators.” I felt bad for the chimpanzees, just because they were intelligent-’enough’ to FEEL & THINK. ‘Bad-idea’ reeks all over this.”). But, you don’t seem to have much emotion as a human being to care about the possible implications of creating possible intelligent life, just to be used as “lab-rats,” to understand what I meant earlier.

    

For the one in a different language, that for some reason, this specific article links to, instead of the English version, thanks for sounding “too smart for you” without actually linking to an English version of the article, to prove your point, if that’s the article you referenced.

    

For someone that claims to know what they’re saying, you’re not really helping anyone that obviously isn’t a science expert (and never claimed to be), to assure them what is really going on. Which is fair to assume of most people here instead of just “calling them uneducated” while giving them the run-around.

    

 http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/medizin/genforscher-george-church-will-neandertaler-klonen-a-877554.html

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/george-church-explains-how-dna-will-be-construction-material-of-the-future-a-877634.html

    http://www.genomeweb.com/blog/adventurous-female-human-needed-give-birth-neandertal

    html

http://gawker.com/5977130/could-you-be-the-adventurous-woman-scientists-need-to-give-birth-to-the-first-neanderthal-baby-in-30000-years


    http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-11-01/neanderthal-babies-all-around-synthetic-biology-is-closer-than-you-think
    …

    Also, try ‘heartless scientist,’ and yes, I did mention ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes,’ you know, the one with the context of ‘experimenting’ on intelligent creatures (so, no, ‘not’ ‘Planet of the Apes’), after creating such intelligent creatures to just exist to be experimented on? Again with you being more arrogant than helpful and assuring, you can’t cite your references pertaining and linked to this specific article or even quote me correctly?

    If people are paranoid of these kind of scientific discoveries, it’s only because the scientists and their sympathizers refuse to specify enough ‘satisfying contingency plans (“What to do with an intelligently comparable human subspecies/clone?”),’ if they’re really trying to help people and not be cruel, instead of just acting out of their selfishness and carelessness like food companies like Monsanto, even if unlike Monsanto, they can ‘contain’ their “genetically modified organisms (http://www.dailytech.com/Monsanto+Defeats+Small+Farmers+in+Critical+Bioethics+Class+Action+Suit/article24118.htm)” instead of inadvertently causing another “killer-bee” scenario (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killer_bee#History).

    Companies like Monsanto and the killer-bee creators ((http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/11/05/food-companies-monsanto-dupont-pepsico-and-nestle-spend-45m-to-defeat-california-gm-label-bill-prop-37/) are one of the ‘major’ parts of my reasoning (rather than just watching too many sci-fi stories) that have truthfully made me seriously doubt such unnecessary high-risk-sounding experiments. 



    I specifically highlighted ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ and ‘The Island’ because of the author’s chosen quote, which I thought partially summed up my opinion on such science: “Ian Malcolm’s quote from Jurassic Park springs to mind: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” That, and I agree with Nelly Dreadful’s post. Which you should read, to know where I’m coming from, properly.

    “…you had noticed that Church talked also about ethics and understanding in context to this intellectual game.”

    What do you mean by “intellectual game?” I really hope you don’t find this whole topic a “game,” being intellectual or not.

    “and how easy it seems to talk about Genetics even if you have absolutely no clue in whatsoever.”

    Yep, it’s not my forte issue. Science is not my expertise, which I can safely assume is the same for a lot of the commenters here, which is why when issues like this ‘do’ come up with serious concern (Nelly Dreadful sums up our ‘main’ concern, perfectly), people like you only confuse them more when you don’t just answer their concerns, in the first place.

  • Anonymous

    Of course “intelligent enough to be messed up by it,” applies to the raising of every homo sapiens child. I think to some extent most children are “messed up” by the experience of growing up. Also, a single mammoth would also have no member of their species around to teach them how to be a mammoth. Humans are not the only animal to learn.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting that people are down voting without any indication of why they disagree. Anyone care to counter any of my points in an intelligent way (clicking “downvote” doesn’t count)? Why exactly is cloning a mammoth so much less objectionable than cloning a human species? Elephants are very social and display emotion. Do you think mammoths are very different? There are a ton of laws that protect humans. Why do you think that a Neanderthal child would would be exempt from those laws, and subject to poor treatment?

  • Anonymous

    Much better to create a mammoth that will spend it’s life being poked and prodded and studied.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that the celebrity is the most troublesome thing about it. On the other hand, Suri Cruise is never going to have a normal life, but I’m not sure it would have been fair to prevent Tom Cruise from having more children.

  • Anonymous

    8/10 people hate Dresden Codak.

  • http://www.facebook.com/saronai Saronai Aldarion

    You got 7 dislikes, but a theory you brought up intrigues me. I like posts that make me think, regardless of how I feel about the material (not saying I disagree with you either, just that I’m doing neither but like your post for making me think)…

    Anyway, thought I had is on your explanation for the fear/state of being upset that Church admitted baffling him. That we have a “weird fear of being the only intelligent life around, thats why we keep looking for aliens and believing in fairies and trying to teach chimps and crows to speak.” It’s a very intriguing thought to me. In all seriousness I couldn’t help but draw an immediate analogy to Tom Hanks’ Castaway, but in this case, we’re all Tom Hanks’ character so afraid to be alone in the “intelligent” universe that we create Wilsons all over in deities, fairies, aliens, etc.

    Funny short version…God is a volleyball? That joke was probably in poor taste and I’m not at all making fun of your idea (or any deities). The thought simply amused me so much, it spilled from my fingers. I regret nothing. This is an interesting thought experiment where being right or wrong isn’t the point, following the idea through, giving it serious considerations is valuable as a thought experiment, regardless of whether or not it proves true. At least it is to me. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/saronai Saronai Aldarion

    I didn’t downvote it, but I would hazard a guess that it got downvoted because you focused on an off-the-cuff remark at the end of an important post in its own right.

    She has a lot of good points, yours for cloning any species is a good point to consider as well, especially given what we know about a mammoth’s closest relative, the elephant. However, as a reply to her comment, I think some felt it was irrelevant to the discussion by focusing on a one-line tangent at the end at the expense of the main point she was making about this specific cloning experiement.

  • Anonymous

    Neanderthals are HUMANS! We are just modern humans, our Cro-Magnon direct ancestors and Neanderthals are what we call archaic humans. In fact, science is just dawning on the fact that all non-Africans have Neanderthal DNA.