It’s the story that could make for one of the weirdest Craigslist personal ads of all time: a Harvard professor is actively seeking an “adventurous woman” to act as surrogate mother for a cloned Neanderthal baby.
Seriously. A cavebaby.
George Church of the Harvard Medical School, one of the world’s foremost geneticists — and possibly the world’s craziest mad scientist — is working on a plan to reconstruct Neanderthal DNA and then hire a woman to give birth to a living, breathing Neanderthal.
It sounds like Church may have watched Jurassic Park a few too many times, because his plan sounds awfully similar to that of the 1993 film. Some might argue that his plan is even crazier than the fictional InGen corporation’s method of extracting dinosaur DNA from mosquitoes and combining it with frog DNA to produce dinosaur eggs, because Church’s plan requires a human woman to carry and give birth to a Neanderthal fetus.
Finding that woman might prove to be his toughest challenge, which is probably why he wants this story to get out now.
There’s no specific danger to the woman. Church plans to create artificial Neanderthal DNA based on snippets of genetic code that have been discovered in fossils. He would then add this DNA to human stem cells and create an embryo, which would be implanted in the womb of a healthy, agreeable woman.
Church is a credible scientist. He was a key figure in getting the Human Genome Project (which mapped human DNA) off the ground. Still, this idea of his might be a pretty tough sell. What happens to the cavebaby after it’s born? Some scientists have expressed the concern that a Neanderthal would have no immunity to modern diseases and would likely be born with deformities. There are hundreds of other ethical issues to overcome.
There’s also the issue of legality. Human cloning is illegal in many countries. Suppose Church finds a willing surrogate — is she going to want to be implanted with the embryo in some sketchy country that doesn’t have a law against cloning?
It sounds like we won’t be seeing cavemen in society any time soon. Those disappointed by this will just have to re-watch the terrible movie Encino Man and the extremely terrible (and short-lived) TV series Cavemen.