May 29, 2024

Cloning our cousins

If they can get the technology right, scientists could clone a Neanderthal
It’s a daunting challenge, but some scientists are considering it: cloning a Neanderthal. Nature recently reported that scientists have recovered a substantial amount of DNA from hair balls preserved in frozen woolly mammoths. They speculated that it might be possible to clone one of these beasts by inserting mammoth DNA into the egg of an African elephant. The ancient DNA is quite fragmented, but with new techniques — and another US$10 million — it may be possible to reconstruct a complete genome.

If a mammoth, why not a Neanderthal?

There are some sticky ethical issues. One of the techniques involves modifying a human genome to become a Neanderthal genome. Another contentious issue is that the Neanderthal, who is human, would be cloned. At the moment, nearly every government is adamantly opposed to reproductive cloning.

But Dr George Church, a genome technologist at Harvard Medical School has a fix in mind. Why not upscale a chimpanzee genome to create a Neatherthal genome? Afterwards a clone could be brought to term in the womb of a chimpanzee. "The big issue would be whether enough people felt that a chimp-Neanderthal hybrid would be acceptable, and that would be broadly discussed before anyone started to work on it," Dr Church told the New York Times. ~ New York Times, Nov 19