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Should we resurrect the Neandertals?

I was reading an interview with George Church, who was discussing that very same question, and somehow I had to rethink some things.

There was the question of technical feasibility, and Church thinks it’s going to be entirely possible in the near future.

The first thing you have to do is to sequence the Neanderthal genome, and that has actually been done. The next step would be to chop this genome up into, say, 10,000 chunks and then synthesize these. Finally, you would introduce these chunks into a human stem cell. If we do that often enough, then we would generate a stem cell line that would get closer and closer to the corresponding sequence of the Neanderthal. We developed the semi-automated procedure required to do that in my lab. Finally, we assemble all the chunks in a human stem cell, which would enable you to finally create a Neanderthal clone.

I agree entirely: no problem. It would be very hard and expensive to do right now, but not impossible. Biotechnology is advancing at such a rapid rate, though, that in 5 years it will be difficult but within the range of what a few well-funded labs could do, in ten years it will look like a straightforward, simple exercise, and in 20 years high school kids will be doing it in their garage.

The technology is not the issue, and it isn’t even a particularly interesting technological problem. The issue is one of ethics. Church takes a reasonable tack on that one: he punts.

I tend to decide on what is desirable based on societal consensus. My role is to determine what’s technologically feasible. All I can do is reduce the risk and increase the benefits.

Fair enough. We will face clear social dictates as the tech becomes more and more readily doable, and that’s ultimately going to determine whether the experiment is done or not.

But I started to think about reasons for and against, and I must confess something terrible: my first thought was that it shouldn’t be done, and to come up with arguments against it. I know, that’s weird…my mad scientist gland must be on the fritz. But my primary concern was that this is science that could create a human being, a human being with significant genetic differences from other human beings, and that should be accompanied by heavy responsibilities — a lifetime of responsibilities. It’s easy to look at it as an exercise in gene-juggling, but this is an experiment you don’t get to dump into the biological waste receptacle when the molecular biology is all done — it has an outcome that is conscious and communicating, damn it. It’s an experiment that at its end makes someone in the lab a parent, with all the obligations associated with that. And that’s a tremendous burden. There’s the cost, the time, the emotional investment…not stuff we usually take into account in the lab.

So I tried to think about what we’d have to do to morally justify Neandertal cloning. As Church also mentions, we couldn’t just do one, we’d have to create a cohort so that these people wouldn’t be alone. The budget would have to include a substantial trust fund for each — you can’t just create a person and then kick them out into the street to fend for themselves.There would have to be adults dedicated to providing for the emotional needs of these children…

Wait a minute. That’s where my brain froze up for a moment. If a scientist is expected to feel that kind of moral responsibility for his children, what about other people? We live in a culture where teenagers carry out a similar experiment every day, with no thought at all except personal need and gratification, and are then compelled to carry the experiment to term and produce a baby they are ill-equipped to care for, because their parents insist that that is what good Christians must do. Single mothers are treated like scum, and on average have the lowest income of any group — they are expected to raise children in poverty. We let children starve to death in this country all the time. Even when they’re fed, we feel no obligation to provide them with a good education — we’re in the process of dismantling the public school system and letting future generations fester in ignorance. There is a societal consensus right now, and it’s nowhere near as demanding as I expected!

And with that, my mad scientist gland was unshackled and grew two sizes larger. We can do the experiment! We should just go ahead and do the molecular biology, produce human stem cells with Neandertal sequences inserted (ooh, even partial sequences — that would be exciting!) and get them implanted and born, do a few preliminary experiments on their behavior, and then wrap them up in a blanket, put ‘em in a basket, and have a grad student drop them off at the nearest orphanage. Especially if it’s a Catholic orphanage. Easy! There don’t seem to be any societal constraints against doing that with Homo sapiens sapiens infants, which we supposedly value most highly, so there shouldn’t be any ethical concerns at all in doing it with the mutant lab-born spawn of a test tube and a sequencer.

My mistake was in holding scientists to a higher ethical standard. If all we’ve got to do is match societal norms, we’re suddenly open to doing all kinds of ghastly horrible things to children.

Of course, this grand plan would be short-circuited if society did start expressing higher concerns for children and demanded better of parents. I’m thinking as a developmental biologist, I should start voting Republican, simply to keep the raw material of our work sufficiently devalued and cheap.

Comments

  1. says

    My issue with this plan is the whole “I am your god” factor of it. I mean, let’s go with the (fictional of course) example of the race I made for my stories – the Sem. Although the product of magic, these hybrid human-animal creatures were created as a servant race for the people. Throughout their entire existence, however, they’ve been ‘the others.’ Cloning a person, or making a race of those clones, would result in the invention of a race separate from ‘normal’ people.

    We treat humans poorly, and we didn’t make them. How poorly do you think humans would treat a race of people we essentially made?

  2. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    I believe the point is that they would hardly be treated any worse than humans treated each other, or even their own offspring right now.

    On that point, though, I’d suggest that we improve our lot first before we introduce any more innocents to the fray. I’m not speaking for myself, but we are utterly awful.

    (Yes, I see what I did there.)

  3. says

    That’s not an argument against it. We’ve got lots of Homo sapiens sapiens producing children with that “I am your god” attitude, who regard their children as possessions, and who use their children as slave labor to support the production of more children. And of course, that’s the whole point: the societal consensus is to treat people who aren’t born white middle class and male as shit.

    If we’re going to regulate science by societal consensus, I’d say that means producing a slave race is fair game, right?

  4. Gnumann+, Radfem shotgunner of inhuman concepts says

    For me, it’s more of a resource question. Shouldn’t we fix our more recent mistakes rather than resurrecting those we killed off long long ago.

    Besides: Are we really sure we’re not creating our master subspecies?

  5. says

    I’d say bigger problems are the limitations of cloneing technology and the need for a neanderthal genome with diversity of alleles. Maybe by the time we have all that we’ll be treating people better then we do now.

  6. says

    Maybe by the time we have all that we’ll be treating people better then we do now.

    We’re going all starry-eyed optimist today, aren’t we?

  7. The Mellow Monkey says

    That method makes far more sense than the description of the idea that I saw in the Daily Mail, which was reduced to “inject Neanderthal stem cells into a human embryo and hope it turns out more like a Neanderthal than a physically modern human.” I figured there had to be a kernel of truth somewhere in there, buried beneath their bullshit.

    Creating a cohort, too, makes more sense than a single Neanderthal. That takes care of a couple of big problems I had with the thought.

    It’s interesting that we do hold scientists to a higher standard and treat cloning as something far more dangerous and in need of special protections than any other form of creating an embryo.

    Having a cohort would reduce the problems I foresaw with not being able to compare an individual to others of their species (as well as the psychological problems of lacking a community), but there would still be problems with the risks of dietary needs (they’d all be lactose intolerant; what other special dietary concerns might they have?), immune systems unsuited for the modern world, health problems and risk factors we’re unfamiliar with, etc. Then again, none of that is all that different from the risks people take making babies the old-fashioned way. Reproduction is messy, dangerous business and kids need massive amounts of care, some more than others.

    It’s weird how when some form of reproduction is intentional it’s suddenly on a different moral level than all of the unintentional or “happy accident” reproduction. When my partner and I discuss sperm donors and other options for having a family, we feel like there’s a lot more pressure to get it right than if we could just randomly mingle our gametes.

  8. says

    PZ,

    Social commentary aside, I’m a bit confused by the technical side of this proposal. Is it actually technically possible right now? Wouldn’t cloning a Neanderthal be even harder than cloning a currently-living human, which has not been done yet? If nothing else, gene sequences from 38,000 year-old bones have to be less accurate than those from living people. And aren’t there contamination concerns for some of the work from the Neanderthal genome project? So how could this work?

    I have previously heard of efforts to resurrect an extinct ibex strain, the marsupial wolf, and the wooly mammoth. But none of those are yet running around the landscape, right?

  9. David Marjanović says

    PZ, your angry sarcasm is most exquisite. It’s really powerful.

    My issue with this plan is the whole “I am your god” factor of it.

    “Puny god.”
    – The Incredible Hulk

    Shouldn’t we fix our more recent mistakes rather than resurrecting those we killed off long long ago.

    If indeed we did.

    We’re going all starry-eyed optimist today, aren’t we?

    Well:

    Addendum: it’s an odd thing, but when you search for information on this compound, a significant number of the Google hits are for its environmental effects. This is an explosive, meant for munitions and destruction, but there are all kinds of studies on its effects on earthworms, fish, soil microorganisms, and so on. Steven Pinker must be right when he says that violence is getting tamer all the time.

    The explosive in question is the strongest of them all.

  10. says

    I don’t think transhuman genetics are implicitly unethical. It’s only unethical if you’re not going to raise any child that results. And an embryo isn’t a child.

    But the availability of fossil genetics as a source of knowledge – not a source of animals, but knowledge – of how our type of life adapted to prior conditions is probably fairly important.

  11. David Marjanović says

    PZ, your angry sarcasm is most exquisite. It’s really powerful.

    My issue with this plan is the whole “I am your god” factor of it.

    “Puny god.”
    – The Incredible Hulk

    Shouldn’t we fix our more recent mistakes rather than resurrecting those we killed off long long ago.

    If indeed we did.

    We’re going all starry-eyed optimist today, aren’t we?

    Well:

    Addendum: it’s an odd thing, but when you search for information on this compound, a significant number of the Google hits are for its environmental effects. This is an explosive, meant for munitions and destruction, but there are all kinds of studies on its effects on earthworms, fish, soil microorganisms, and so on. Steven Pinker must be right when he says that violence is getting tamer all the time.

    The explosive in question is the strongest of them all.

    immune systems unsuited for the modern world

    Not true. The innate immune system only recognizes stuff like common components of bacterial cell walls; all the rest is done by the adaptive immune system, which is pretty much a blank slate at birth.

  12. Larry says

    I’ve got this great idea for a kind of amusement park. We’ll create a bunch of these creatures, allow them to roam free on some island off the coast of Costa Rica, and let visitors view them from vehicles that drive through the park. To keep the Neandertals in check, we’ll only allow the males to grow. It will be worth a fortune!

    What could possibly go wrong?

  13. says

    We haven’t cloned a human because there is no reason to. Some of the techniques used to produce children in infertile couples is literally the same technology as cloning, so it’s not like it’s some technical hurdle that needs to be jumped. Humans aren’t unique here.

  14. David Marjanović says

    Trying again…

    PZ, your angry sarcasm is most exquisite. It’s really powerful.

    My issue with this plan is the whole “I am your god” factor of it.

    “Puny god.”
    – The Incredible Hulk

    Shouldn’t we fix our more recent mistakes rather than resurrecting those we killed off long long ago.

    If indeed we did.

    We’re going all starry-eyed optimist today, aren’t we?

    Well:

    Addendum: it’s an odd thing, but when you search for information on this compound, a significant number of the Google hits are for its environmental effects. This is an explosive, meant for munitions and destruction, but there are all kinds of studies on its effects on earthworms, fish, soil microorganisms, and so on. Steven Pinker must be right when he says that violence is getting tamer all the time.

    The explosive in question is the strongest of them all.

    immune systems unsuited for the modern world

    Not true. The innate immune system only recognizes stuff like common components of bacterial cell walls; all the rest is done by the adaptive immune system, which is pretty much a blank slate at birth.

  15. David Marjanović says

    Are links to Amazon forbidden? Trying without…

    ================

    PZ, your angry sarcasm is most exquisite. It’s really powerful.

    My issue with this plan is the whole “I am your god” factor of it.

    “Puny god.”
    – The Incredible Hulk

    Shouldn’t we fix our more recent mistakes rather than resurrecting those we killed off long long ago.

    If indeed we did.

    We’re going all starry-eyed optimist today, aren’t we?

    Well:

    Addendum: it’s an odd thing, but when you search for information on this compound, a significant number of the Google hits are for its environmental effects. This is an explosive, meant for munitions and destruction, but there are all kinds of studies on its effects on earthworms, fish, soil microorganisms, and so on. Steven Pinker must be right [link to his book] when he says that violence is getting tamer all the time.

    The explosive in question is the strongest of them all.

    immune systems unsuited for the modern world

    Not true. The innate immune system only recognizes stuff like common components of bacterial cell walls; all the rest is done by the adaptive immune system, which is pretty much a blank slate at birth.

  16. loopyj says

    Just a comment on the science here: There’s a deep flaw in the assumption that we could learn much about Neanderthal behaviour by cloning, because it would involve gestation in a female homo sapiens sapiens and being cared for and socialized by homo sapiens sapiens. (Also seems like a lot of effort just to learn a bit about Neanderthal neonate behaviour before pawning them off on children’s social services.) Not only would there be biological interference, but you’d get the same environmental interference as when non-human primates are raised by humans, only exponentially more so given the assumed cognitive ability and social instincts of a Neanderthal child.

  17. David Marjanović says

    Maybe not only links to that bookselling company are forbidden, but even its very name?

    ===================

    PZ, your angry sarcasm is most exquisite. It’s really powerful.

    My issue with this plan is the whole “I am your god” factor of it.

    “Puny god.”
    – The Incredible Hulk

    Shouldn’t we fix our more recent mistakes rather than resurrecting those we killed off long long ago.

    If indeed we did.

    We’re going all starry-eyed optimist today, aren’t we?

    Well:

    Addendum: it’s an odd thing, but when you search for information on this compound, a significant number of the Google hits are for its environmental effects. This is an explosive, meant for munitions and destruction, but there are all kinds of studies on its effects on earthworms, fish, soil microorganisms, and so on. Steven Pinker must be right [link to his book] when he says that violence is getting tamer all the time.

    The explosive in question is the strongest of them all.

    immune systems unsuited for the modern world

    Not true. The innate immune system only recognizes stuff like common components of bacterial cell walls; all the rest is done by the adaptive immune system, which is pretty much a blank slate at birth.

  18. David Marjanović says

    *sigh* OK, trying in parts.

    Part 1 of who knows how many:

    ========================

    PZ, your angry sarcasm is most exquisite. It’s really powerful.

    My issue with this plan is the whole “I am your god” factor of it.

    “Puny god.”
    – The Incredible Hulk

    Shouldn’t we fix our more recent mistakes rather than resurrecting those we killed off long long ago.

    If indeed we did.

    We’re going all starry-eyed optimist today, aren’t we?

    Well:

  19. David Marjanović says

    Good! Part 2:

    =============

    Well:

    Addendum: it’s an odd thing, but when you search for information on this compound, a significant number of the Google hits are for its environmental effects. This is an explosive, meant for munitions and destruction, but there are all kinds of studies on its effects on earthworms, fish, soil microorganisms, and so on. Steven Pinker must be right when he says that violence is getting tamer all the time.

  20. David Marjanović says

    Bizarre. Even that worked. So, part 3:

    ===============

    The explosive in question is the strongest of them all.

    immune systems unsuited for the modern world

    Not true. The innate immune system only recognizes stuff like common components of bacterial cell walls; all the rest is done by the adaptive immune system, which is pretty much a blank slate at birth.

  21. adriana says

    As a genomics researcher, I think the view that this will be feasible in 10 years is a bit optimistic. There are still quite a few technical barriers to human cloning. And simply throwing chunks of DNA into a stem cell is very far from producing a human being. It has not even been done with mice. There are also other interesting barriers to creating a Neanderthal (by this, I mean a human being with the gene variants AND the phenotype of a Neanderthal): one is the mitochondrial DNA (you’d have to substitute the modern human mitochondrial DNA of the stem cell with Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA), the other is epigenetics. A true can of worms there, though a fascinating one. And let’s not forget the environmental one: what sort of microbiome would this Neanderthal baby have? In others words, the presumed Neanderthal may end up being a regular Jane Doe or Joe Schmo, with a funny looking cranium.

    Now onto the ethical aspects. I think that the fact that other people treat others like crap or view their children as property to be abused does not mean a free pass for anyone to treat other people like objects. Which is why prospective adoptive parents are carefully screened, even though biological parents are not. It is not a matter of holding them to higher standards, it’s a matter of holding them to society’s standards of how a human being should be treated. That there are irresponsible or abusive biological parents out there does not override the standards of society, ethical and legal. Society should strive to hold everybody to the highest possible standards when it comes to human rights. It gets hairy, of course, when it comes to personal rights vs society’s rights. Which is why we don’t go around forcing abusive people to be sterilized.

  22. whheydt says

    Isaac Asimov, “The Ugly Little Boy.” Not the same scenario, but close enough to cover the social expectations in a positive way.

  23. David Marjanović says

    Huh. I can’t link to “things I won’t work with”???

    ==================

    The explosive in question is the strongest of them all [and here I wanted to insert a link to the article on hexanitrohexazisowurtzitane].

    immune systems unsuited for the modern world

    Not true. The innate immune system only recognizes stuff like common components of bacterial cell walls; all the rest is done by the adaptive immune system, which is pretty much a blank slate at birth.

  24. Rob Grigjanis says

    One of the less attractive traits of our species IMO: We do things because we can, and rationalize later.

    I was once given a tour of a pharmacology lab by a friend. One experiment I can never unsee involved a cat. I knew my friend loved cats, so I asked her what she thought of the experiment. Much ‘greater good of humanity’ nonsense, but she was obviously severely conflicted, and doubtless expended some effort maintaining compartment boundaries.

  25. eric says

    The largest ethical issues (for me) would be the same ones that currently weigh against cloning – that it has a high chance of producing birth defects and developmental problems. You ethically ought not bring a child into existence using a method you know has a higher chance of such problems, when you have an alternative method that does not.

    Now, there is no other method available to have a specifically neanderthal child. But still, they’re human (if another flavor of human), and the point is, we should not be having human kids in a dangerous way that might saddle that kid with defects when there are less dangerous ways available.

    So, my general thought would be: its unethical until such time as the technical problems are solved well enough that having a homo sapiens sapiens kid by cloning is considered ethical. When we get to that point, I’d support doing it.

  26. David Marjanović says

    Bizarre. That really was it. ~:-| And now PZ has approved all my failed attempts, so I’ve written half the thread alone. :-(

    What could possibly go wrong?

    Lesson learned: don’t be so stupid as to use frog DNA for patching amniote genomes! (Really, that’s an idea only Crichton could have had. Chicken, fine. Crocodile, OK. Frog, WTF?)

    Haven’t we got a little neanderthal DNA in us already?

    Non-Africans have up to 4 %. If all your recent ancestry is from Africa south of the Sahara (or so), you’ve got 0 %.

    In others words, the presumed Neanderthal may end up being a regular Jane Doe or Joe Schmo, with a funny looking cranium.

    And a very interesting brain inside that cranium – I suppose that’s most of the point!

  27. remyporter says

    Honestly, I think the potential benefits for learning about humanity and evolution justify such an experiment- but the experiment must be conducted ethically. There’s so much to be learned about how how humans work that would be illuminated by comparing against how Neandertals work.

    But their cognition is not our cognition. And making predictions about what is ethical treatment for them is roughly akin to a masochist living according to the golden rule. We can make some reasonable guesses, but like any new parent, most of what we’re going to do will involve fumbling and fucking up.

    That said, an organization dedicated to the rearing and care of Neandertal would have to be founded to manage this. It’d be something between a wildlife preserve and a home for developmentally non-baseline children. The organization would have to exist and be functional before any experiments are performed.

  28. Beatrice says

    The Mellow Monkey:

    That method makes far more sense than the description of the idea that I saw in the Daily Mail, which was reduced to “inject Neanderthal stem cells into a human embryo and hope it turns out more like a Neanderthal than a physically modern human.” I figured there had to be a kernel of truth somewhere in there, buried beneath their bullshit.

    The article I read was along the lines of “British geneticist looking for a female volunteer to carry a baby Neanderthal!”. It made it sound like the only thing between us and little Neanderthal babies crawling around is finding willing women.

  29. says

    Hehe, all the late comments show up in the right places.

    Yeah, how would we learn anything about behavior if there isn’t an continuity of habitat and culture? That just seems bizarre that we expect caged creatures who have only themselves to as a teacher to have the same behavior as those who were reared by a pack, tribe, or mother in their original habitat.

  30. Rob Grigjanis says

    whheydt @24:”Isaac Asimov, “The Ugly Little Boy.””

    That was the first SF story I thought of. The second was The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, by Le Guin.

  31. Michael says

    You missed an entire ethical line of thought. In order to produce babies from those Neanderthal stem cells, you would need surrogate mothers. Now in the case of producing a human-bonobo hybrid, you could probably use a bonobo as the surrogate mother, rather than a human female who might object to incubating a half-human-half-ape for science. In the case of Neanderthals, you would need a human surrogate, but the degree of objection could be allieviated by saying they are human cousins. They would also need an appropriate level of compensation both as being a surrogate mother, and as a single parent after birth (with the usual monthyl compensation an absentee father would have to provide).

    It would be interesting to see how Neanderthal’s compare to us in today’s society. I would anticipate they would do well at the Olympics and other competitive sports. If they are similar intellectually, then they would have an advantage in careers that require strength as well as brains.

  32. wilydairygnome says

    I’m wondering about reproduction of the clones. If someone were to raise them to sexual maturity, they are going to want that physical and emotional connection, same as any human does. How does whoever is “in charge” handle this?

    Do we let the neanderthal clones mate with whomever they fall in love with, as we would want for ourselves? I feel like the general public will be worried about lab-created DNA being let loose in the greater human population. Additionally, there is the danger of abuse of power, if one of the subjects ends up in a sexual relationship with any scientist involved in the project. Not to mention the stigma any half-neanderthal child will undoubtedly end up facing.

    Do we restrict them to other clones born in their cohort? I feel like this would serve some scientific interests, as it would let us observe neanderthal pregnancy and child rearing, as well as being genetically interesting. But basically forcing two people together has its own ethical issues, as you are taking away their choice. And the same dilemmas will appear for each generation we have (not to mention the eventual added questions about avoiding inbreeding – do we relax the restrictions? start sterilizing? make more clones to add genetic diversity?) At some point I feel like they would need to be allowed to integrate into the general population, especially as their population got larger.

    Do we sterilize them so reproduction isn’t an option? This would allow them to seek out emotional and physical relationships without any of the ethical problems of creating more children. But I can’t imagine this being truly consensual.

  33. unclefrogy says

    If it can be done it will be done if only once.
    I have had this thought for some time now that the “humanoid aliens” we see in fiction will not come from outer space but we will make them ourselves.
    In thinking about this idea and taking into consideration the truth and fact of how we treat our own species our children let alone how we think about the others we share this planet with somebody will do this or some variation of this.
    If what I saw on a recent NOVA program is true the Neanderthal were close enough to us to produce fertile offspring. From the descriptions of them I have read they sound like supper soldiers at least as infantry and a team of them would definitely beat the pee out of the NFL .
    I hope I never see it though.

    uncle frogy

  34. eric says

    @31:

    It’d be something between a wildlife preserve and a home for developmentally non-baseline children.

    @37:

    Do we let the neanderthal clones mate with whomever they fall in love with, as we would want for ourselves?

    …Do we sterilize them so reproduction isn’t an option?

    Holy crap, people, you’re talking about human beings here. You don’t frakking raise them in a wildlife preserve, you don’t decide who they will mate with,* and you don’t sterilize them against their will.

    You raise and treat them as you would your own kid. Because they are human. If they turn out to have lower IQs or something, you raise and treat them like a low-IQ human. Is that too hard to understand?

    *Okay, the child’s parent’s will try and have a say in this, but you know what I mean.

  35. vmsmith says

    This made me think of some soft science fiction I read just out of high school. Frank Herbert’s Destination Void and The Jesus Incident. Those novels explore the idea (among others) of clones as property without the rights accorded ‘naturally born’ humans. The concept was disturbing then, and remains disturbing now. It causes the metaphorical egalitarian hairs on the back of my neck to bristle.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  36. Draken says

    So let’s say we manage to “produce” a somewhat representative number of neoneanderthals. They turn out to be smart, but don’t develop as Homo sapiens; rather, they seem more intelligent than chimpansees, but far less than we are.

    What have we learned then? That H. neanderthalensis was behind us in intelligence, or that our production method isn’t quite up to par? How do we find out?

  37. Hairhead, whose head is entirely filled with Too Much Stuff says

    To those who think that “ten years” is optimistic: in terms of cloning and reconstitution of dead species, we’re about at the Gemini-rocket stage. We can actually get a human to orbit and back without subjecting the person to immediate death (cognate would Dolly the cloned sheep); ten years after Gemini we were on the Moon, in now what is seen as an incredibly dangerous, hurried, kludged-up manner. So, yes, we’ve got all of the basics (rockets, etc.) we need only refinement and extension of the technologies.

    Oh, and to Rob@27 and your ‘”greater good of humanity” nonsense’ crack — fuck you. The ethical formula your friend used is NOT nonsense. It’s how such upsetting experiments are justified, it’s how worse experiments are not, and it’s how the far more disgusting experiments of previous decades are no longer used by ethical organizations. And I say this as a cat-lover who has also seen upsetting experiments being performed on cats.

  38. anubisprime says

    It would indeed be well past ironic if a ‘cohort’ was developed that actually found this environment well suitable…and were actually were well adapted, already, to global warming, which seems to consist more of freezing temperatures then the sweltering ones, but what do I know?

    If the physiology was adapted enough, no reason to doubt it would not be, then we might well be looking at out future overlords here!
    Piss myself, I would not stop!
    As for should we, the mere fact we can is a powerful persuader in some thought patterns.
    Not sure if there is anything to be radically gained from such a journey given that the nurture of the nature would be…challenging…although not impossible.

    I do doubt most country governments would be gung ho with the concept.
    Sadly it might come down to which corporation, that imagines some spurious profit motive, offers most spondoolies and sweeteners to which lab in which country!

    Personally I am not to comfortable with the reality, but doubt I have an argument compelling enough beyond the welfare, or indeed technological, point.

  39. The Mellow Monkey says

    remyporter:

    It’d be something between a wildlife preserve and a home for developmentally non-baseline children.

    Uh, no. These would be human children, albeit different humans from us. They wouldn’t belong in a wildlife preserve. Though disabilities could occur–as they could in any children–there wouldn’t be any reason to think they’d need to be in an institution setting.

    David Marjanović:

    Not true. The innate immune system only recognizes stuff like common components of bacterial cell walls; all the rest is done by the adaptive immune system, which is pretty much a blank slate at birth.

    You’re right. I didn’t put my thoughts together well there and just sort brain farted through what I was really thinking. I was thinking of our modern world as in medicine for the physically modern human body, not environment, but that isn’t at all what I said.

    Some of our most important immunities come from vaccinations rather than direct exposure. Are we closely enough related that vaccines developed for physically modern humans would be safe and effective in Neanderthals? Is that something we could determine beforehand, or would Neanderthal-specific vaccines need to be developed after they’re born? There has been research in the past finding different responses in chimps to vaccines and diseases from what we see in humans. Medications and how their responses might differ are another factor to consider. There isn’t nearly as much of a gap between Neanderthals and us, but can we say how important that gap would be when it came to treating and preventing disease?

    It’s not a huge risk (and this is all wildly hypothetical at this point anyway), but it’s something I’m curious about.

  40. dccarbene says

    Paint me confused… your reference to “resurrecting” the Neanderthals.

    I thought they walked among us… don’t they call themselves the Neanderthal Rifle Association?

    Apparently may of them are fond of tea, as well…

  41. Lofty says

    Now if you could also genetically engineer their kidneys to produce biofuel you could have herds of them pissing in gas tanks all over Texas.
    Naah, I think you should leave Neanderthal DNA in the ground, it would be safer.

  42. separatethread says

    “Should we Resurrect Neandertals”? Isn’t that where we got Pat Robertson?
    Is that joke disrespectful to Neandertals?

  43. lostintime says

    I wonder what ‘rights’ these sub-species would be accorded, if any at all. Would we all agree that it’s wrong to abuse them, or torture them, or eat them? Would they be citizens, or second-class citizens, or chattel property?

  44. Amphiox says

    There are ethical issues to consider with the process as well. What will happen with respect to all the missteps that are inevitable along the way – the miscarriages, spontaneous abortions, still births, non-viable live births, viable births with unexpected defects?

    With respect to the social companionship issue, though, I’m not sure if it is required to make more than one (though for many reasons we probably would want to – if for nothing else that the aim of the experiment, to see how they and we differ or not differ, could not possibly be fully valid with a proper observation of interspecific social behavior). There’s no reason to assume a priori that their social needs could not be satisfied via social interaction with “regular” H. sapiens.

  45. transsimian says

    eric :

    You raise and treat them as you would your own kid. Because they are human.

    Depends on how you define “human”.

    Whether they are “human” enough in the genetic or taxonomic sense of the word is up for debate …and most of all, it shouldn’t matter. Welding personhood to species membership is what the anti-abortionists are trying to push through. I think that’s ethically untenable because then a living being with a humanlike mind and a nonhuman genome (alignment fails to show better-than-random similarity) would be rightless by definition. Such a Colonel Quaritch morality strikes me as no less arbitrary than the old-style ethnic racism.

    We should raise and treat Neanderthals as we would our own kids because they have a capacity for sentience and self-awareness. They are autonomous moral agents. They can value their own existence. If we didn’t respect their prospective wish to be well and happy and free from oppression, it would be unclear, from a neutral observer’s point of view, why someone else should respect ours.

  46. anubisprime says

    It would come as no particular surprise that a Neanderthal ‘cohort’ would rather view the rethug’ loony wing…a broad spectrum in numbers there… as intellectually inferior.
    And it might distract the jeebus droolers for a while, trying to evangelize them or demonize them whatever floats their ark!
    I rather think they will end up demonizing them when the Neanderthals start laughing and pointing at them.

    It has its highlights nonetheless!

  47. yubal says

    I’d say we should not do it. Spending all the resources on reproducing an extinct human species allthough we are almost certain those individual will not be able to enjoy their life. For what? To satisfy to geek-drive of a few scientist.? There might be some long term opportunities but the first couple of generations would experience only horror in our society.

    Somebody thought “geico commercials” too ?

    That sort of harassment will be 24/7 on those kids. Unless you put up a reservation up for the population like on an island and keep us out.

  48. jackasterisk says

    Seems to me the ethical concerns of normal human reproduction and this kind of experiment are quite different. It’s true that people breed often without considering whether they will be able to cope with their offspring. As a society we have norms that say if you bear a child you should raise it, but we have other fallbacks. We create institutions that care for abandoned or orphaned children. We provide care and treatment for those who suffer illness due to their semi-random genome (or at least we should!). We provide — and require — education sufficient for thriving as an adult in society.

    And we get tangible benefits. Each generation of haphazard and accidental children grow into the workers, scientists and leaders of the future. To the extent we support their development into contributing members of society, our way of life continues. We put up with the chaotic reproductive process both because we believe in individual bodily autonomy and because we’ve set up social structures to manage it and get good outcomes.

    The logic for this kind of — dare I say it — ‘Frankenstein’ scenario isn’t the same. The result of this experiment is a human child but one well outside the genetic norm. This child could not result from the random reshuffling of parent genes and will have unique needs and abilities. Their effect on future generations is also unknown.

    Hmm — OK now that I’ve written it out I’m not so sure. Social institutions need to be plastic enough to deal with all situations, and a Neandertal probably wouldn’t be that far outside the range of human norms. The question really is the more general one: should we allow human reproduction by means other than naturally-occurring recombination?

  49. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    the fact that other people treat others like crap or view their children as property to be abused does not mean a free pass for anyone to treat other people like objects. Which is why prospective adoptive parents are carefully screened, even though biological parents are not. It is not a matter of holding them to higher standards, it’s a matter of holding them to society’s standards of how a human being should be treated. That there are irresponsible or abusive biological parents out there does not override the standards of society, ethical and legal. – adriana

    QFT.

    I can’t foresee any circumstances in which cloning a Neandertal could be ethical, which is a shame, because it would be a fascinating experiment. But there’s the problem: you’d be bringing into existence a person who is also a scientific experiment – not just the process by which they came to be born, but how they develop and live their life are parts of the experiment. What sort of life is that likely to be?

    Hmm… I guess if we arrive at a society where germ-line human genetic modification is widespread, things would be different at least as far as the level of public scrutiny is concerned.

  50. unclefrogy says

    naturally-occurring recombination are we sure that is all that is going on today? Would that include “selective breeding” ? What selection methods are included as natural? Love, physical attractiveness, wealth, intelligence. How does gamete donation and invitro fertilization play into “natural occurring recombination”?
    seems to me that there are numberless ways going on today what would be one other?

    uncle frogy

  51. Rob Grigjanis says

    Hairhead @43: Well, fuck you too, I guess, although my heart’s not really in it.

    I could take ‘the ethical formula’ a bit more seriously if a bit more effort were spent on it. Having spent some time with pharmacology students (two were housemates), it soon became clear that they were just regurgitating formulaic ethical soundbites rather unconvincingly, while pursuing their careers. The word axiomatic comes to mind.

    Clinicians and the public often consider it axiomatic that animal research has contributed to the treatment of human disease, yet little evidence is available to support this view.

  52. Rich Woods says

    @The Mellow Monkey #45:

    Some of our most important immunities come from vaccinations rather than direct exposure. Are we closely enough related that vaccines developed for physically modern humans would be safe and effective in Neanderthals? Is that something we could determine beforehand, or would Neanderthal-specific vaccines need to be developed after they’re born?

    I would venture to say that if Neanderthal children could be carried to term then we might expect most vaccines to be safe and effective.

    You should bear in mind that I have sod-all knowledge of this field.

  53. The Mellow Monkey says

    Rich Woods:

    You should bear in mind that I have sod-all knowledge of this field.

    Me too. I can only throw myself upon the mercy of those educated on this topic and hope they can answer my curiosity. Your guess makes sense and I can’t find anything that would say otherwise, though.

  54. adriana says

    The optimistic and the pessimistic predictions are very often wrong, just about equally. Damn, this prediction business is freaking hard. I should not have read The Drunkard’s Walk :-)

  55. says

    It was pointed out on another forum which is having a similar discussion that American law, at least, refers to “persons” rather than humans, then leaves “person” undefined.

    IANAL nor an American, but if that’s true, I think you’d have to really fine-tune your definition of “person” to exclude neo-Neanderthals. The originals were likely around about as intelligent as H. sapiens, and they also bred with us, so you couldn’t fairly exclude them for not being human. (Well, you could, if the first test case goes before a Neanderthal-intolerant judge, say.)

  56. chrislawson says

    PZ,

    I think Church is being wildly optimistic about the technological progress with cloning. There has yet to be a single successful cloning of an extinct species. The closest was a cloning attempt of the Pyrenean ibex, a subspecies of ibex that had been extinct for only 9 years at the time of the experiment. So even with well-preserved frozen skin samples from the last Pyrenean ibex, the cloning attempt resulted in the birth of a kid that survived only a few minutes before dying of lung defects. This means that even with well-preserved tissue that can be drawn upon and an egg donor and surrogate mother very closely related to the extinct species, cloning is a difficult process.

    And even if it is technically possible (I certainly believe the technology will get there…but then I used to believe that full AI would be available by the early 2000s), Church’s described technique relies on using multiple embryos to recursively improve the uptake of Neanderthal DNA — that will be a lot of human donor eggs, and it raises the question of how far Church will allow the embryos to develop to see if they have a functioning genome. If he creates a Neanderthal child who dies a few minutes old, like the Pyrenean ibex, will he then go back and try again? I guess what I’m trying to say is that the technical procedure alone raises massive ethical concerns — well before you even get to consider the desired outcome of the experiment.

    To quote an OMG Facts headline: “Thanks to cloning, the Pyrenean Ibex has gone extinct twice.”

  57. colluvial says

    Homo sapiens may be the reason Homo neanderthalensis is extinct. In that case, it could be argued it’s our duty to resurrect them if we can.

  58. Esteleth, Ultra-PC Feminist Harpy Out To Destroy Secularism says

    My issue with the idea of cloning Neanderthals is this:

    As near as we can tell (AFAIK, please correct me if I am wrong), Neanderthals were – while sapient – less intelligent than modern humans. So this project proposes to create a child – or a cohort of children – who would be caught in a catch-22. They must either (1) be kept and carefully cared for and tended for life in a zoolike (or at least rather institutional) environment, or (2) be placed in a situation where they’ll be unable to compete with the modern humans around them.

    I fail to see how either situation (creating a cohort of children that are given – in addition to their distinctive physical appearance – to struggle to succeed; or keeping them in an institutional environment) is ethical.

    Now, I do grant that this objection is rooted in my understanding of Neanderthal intelligence. So it could be ill-founded.

    But then, another question: what happens if we clone a Neanderthal baby and something goes wrong? Between shortened lifespans, physical and/or mental disabilities, chronic illnesses, a clear-cut plan of what to do needs to be thought out. Fully, with all the implications and contingency plans considered.

    Relatedly: medicine. We can assume that much of their physiology would be highly similar to humans and other primates. But if – when – one gets sick, what to do? Do we – will we – have appropriate medicine to bring to bear?

  59. says

    I initially came here to mention the story that Daniel Martin linked to @ #26, but that’s already been done.

    Esteleth

    As near as we can tell (AFAIK, please correct me if I am wrong), Neanderthals were – while sapient – less intelligent than modern humans.

    I’m not aware of concrete evidence for that proposition. ISTR that that idea was based on difference in tools made/used. The thing is that Neandertals were a) significantly stronger (IIRC), and b) had some differences in the shoulder joint making it harder for them to throw things, so they’d have had need for a different set of tools.

    But then, another question: what happens if we clone a Neanderthal baby and something goes wrong? Between shortened lifespans, physical and/or mental disabilities, chronic illnesses,

    I would definitely suggest we not clone Neanderthals (or indeed much of any hominids), until we’ve successfully cloned something that hasn’t got any of those.

  60. Rich Woods says

    @Esteleth #65:

    Relatedly: medicine. We can assume that much of their physiology would be highly similar to humans and other primates. But if – when – one gets sick, what to do? Do we – will we – have appropriate medicine to bring to bear?

    For medical responses such as surgery I’d guess we – they – would be OK, because we have the imaging technologies to double-check that anatomical differences shouldn’t throw up any surprises (this probably goes even for brain surgery, the one place where, IIRC, we are pretty sure that Neanderthals differed critically from us).

    In terms of pharmacology it would be a bit more risky. Anything which works in apes and humans would be very likely to work in Neanderthals, but the more specific an action is (say something which only works in the 30% of people who carry a particular gene) then the greater the chance of it being ineffective. Then again, it would be horrible to find out that there had been a mutation in their history which, to suggest an extreme case, made them highly allergic to aspirin and we only found out after dosing them all up when they caught one of our colds.

  61. Rich Woods says

    I think I have to come down on the side of ‘let’s not try to recreate people’, because they would undoubtedly count as people. They are, after all, close ancestors to many of us and cousins to all.

  62. birgerjohansson says

    Taslima Nasrin has a very good thread on the subject:
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/taslima/2013/01/21/to-give-birth-of-a-neandethal-why-not/
    .
    Anyway, the genomes of Neanderthals and Denisovans may be considered part of the metagenome of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, since we have interbred with them in the past.
    .
    And historically, there have always been several branches of the lineages that also led to us, all the way from Australopithecus. Just during the last ice age, there was us (H. sapiens Sapiens) Neanderthals, Denisovans and the odd “hobbits”.
    — — — — —
    Finally, if we look at the genomes of many individuals of extinct human variants and get most of the genetic diversity we may find a lot of useful genes. The genes we got from Neanderthals and Denisovans were mainly useful during youth and middle age -they gave us more resistance to diseases common in those regions.
    There will be other (not extant) gene variants hiding in fossils. It is perfectly possible some Neanderthals might have had good resistance to Alzheimer’s disease, or some Denisovans might have had better defences against some cancers.
    .
    As I mentioned at The Lounge, 2 % of us ordinary humans have a gene variant that spares them from smelly armpits (to mention a trivial example of useful variants). And people in Sardinia and Iwo Jima have different genetic variants that promote longevity. We would probably like to insert those genes in the genomes of our children. Why not also insert selected parts of Neanderthal and Denisovan gene variants?

  63. Ragutis says

    This talk of refuges and reservations does sound distasteful, but would we be doing these people any favors by throwing them into modern (presumably Western) society? As cool as this sounds, my mind keeps thinking about the various indigenous people that were essentially kidnapped, brought back to London or wherever, dressed up, taught to be “civilized” and paraded around for the public. Then again, they’d have no culture, no ancestral knowledge or experience shared with them. They’d be just as poorly prepared for starting from scratch on some uninhabited island.

    Let’s maybe just work on time travel technology and send David Attenborough back to make a documentary.

  64. says

    PZ’s commentary on how we treat homo sapiens sapiens babies is excellent, and I’m glad I read it.

    As it is, though, assuming we have enough practice at this (by cloning other, non-human extinct species and the like) and that we have a family, social network, and protections in place so that this neanderthal has an actual support network, and can be treated like a normal human, then it would be very interesting to see what happens.

    If the genetic evidence I’ve read is accurate (it might not be! I dunno!) then some of my ancesters were neanderthals. Assuming it’s true, the fact that this happened means that it’s at least theoretically possible for neanderthals and sapiens to co-exist. If my ancestors on both sides could co-exist, one could think that a new neanderthal could live with us…

    But while that’s a wildly optimistic idea, the fact is, neanderthals showed signs of burial rites and the like. I can believe they think differently than us, but this is not a chimpanzee we’re talking about. This is another species/subspecies of human, one that at least potentially contributed to my genome. I think we’d learn a lot.

    While science has been responsible for some horrid treatment of human beings… it doesn’t have to be. And doing this doesn’t have to be.

    Besides. I heard people on another forum discussing things like “what if they think differently and are treated badly in high school! What if they don’t always have a good social safety net! What if they’re just too different?!” Well, I was different enough to be treated badly in high school. I don’t have a safety net. And I sure as hell deserve to live, and I rather prefer living to death. Nobody asked me if I wanted to exist, for obvious reasons. I don’t think that part is any more relevant for a neanderthal than for me. But they require the same responsibility any child deserves. They require the best of our shared humanity.

    Just like every child that’s born. It’s too bad the ones who are born right now don’t. (Again, agreement with PZ! Yay.)

  65. texasaggie says

    I love the implications of that argument. It implies that when some holier than thou starts huffing and puffing about the evilness of that experiment, then the argument can be used against them to force them to treat actual presently living children the way decent people would do. While there would be no real intention of bringing the experiment to fruition, just throwing it in the face of these sanctimonious white dog turds might put them in their place.

  66. laurentweppe says

    We can do the experiment! We should just go ahead and do the molecular biology, produce human stem cells with Neandertal sequences inserted and get them implanted and born, do a few preliminary experiments on their behavior, and then wrap them up in a blanket, put ‘em in a basket, and have a grad student drop them off at the nearest orphanage. Especially if it’s a Catholic orphanage.

    And then they grow up to become much smarter than us Cro-Magnon, discover the truth about their origins, then in a moment oh genius fuelled rage decide to take revenge on the scientists who shunned them by taking over the catholic church, using it to conquer the world and plunge it into a ne dark age: there is a SF novel begging to be written right here

  67. iiandyiiii says

    While the ethics is an interesting question, I think it’s very likely that if it can happen, it will happen. And I can’t help but be excited by the prospect.

  68. bradleybetts says

    @David Marjanovic

    Haven’t we got a little neanderthal DNA in us already?

    Non-Africans have up to 4 %. If all your recent ancestry is from Africa south of the Sahara (or so), you’ve got 0 %.

    Just out of interest, why is that the case? I mean from what I understand, we evolved in sub-Saharan Africa and people from Africa have changed least from that original form (not that any of us have changed drastically). So assuming Homo Sapiens Sapiens originally shared x% of their DNA with Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis and that % has decreased over time as we evolved away from that original form, shouldn’t Sub-Saharan Africans share the most amount of DNA with Neanderthals?

    I have no expertise in this field whatsoever, so please do correct any ridiculous assumptions/massive leaps of logic/shocking displays of ignorance I may come out with. Not that your typical Pharyngulite is ever shy about that :)

  69. laurentweppe says

    Just out of interest, why is that the case?

    Because we were close enough to the Neanderthals to make interbreeding possible: Homo-saiens-sapiens left Africa, found Neanderthals already living in Europe and the Middle-East, and for a few millenia shared a common culture and had many opportunities to fuck

  70. steve1 says

    It might be worth cloning a Neanderthal if it would shut up the creationists. It most likely would not but the twisting logic might be worth a laugh.

  71. bradleybetts says

    @laurentweppe

    Clearly my understanding of human evolution is incomplete :)

    So Homo Sapiens evolved in Africa, some moved to Asia/Europe and evolved into the subspecies Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis, those left in Africa evolved into the subspecies Homo Sapiens Sapiens, HSS then diverged into Asia and Europe and interbred with their Neanderthal cousins, correct?

    I have reading to do :) though not now since I’m at work. Thanks laurentweppe, I appreciate the answer.

  72. iiandyiiii says

    79-

    My understanding is that Homo Erectus evolved in Africa and spread into Europe and Asia and likely evolved into several “varieties” (including Homo Antecessor and Homo Ergaster), and from one of these European varieties came the Neandertals. Meanwhile, back in Africa, Homo Sapiens evolved from one of the Erectus varieties, and Sapiens spread throughout the world, out-competing and displacing the other hominids (and occasionally interbreeding with the Neandertals and possibly others like the Denisovans in Russia). About a hundred-thousand years ago Earth was a pretty interesting place- there were likely several species of hominids living in various parts of the world (Sapiens in Africa, Neandertal in Europe and the Near East, Erectus and other varieties in Asia and Indonesia).

  73. iiandyiiii says

    I’ll correct my own flub from post 80: Homo ergaster was probably an ancestor of Homo Erectus (and other hominids), not a descendant of Homo Erectus. Homo Heidelbergensis is a descendant of Erectus that is a likely ancestor of both Neandertal and Homo Sapiens.

  74. psocoptera says

    Maybe this is too detailed a question for so late in the thread, but what makes people assume that a human could carry a neanderthal fetus to term? Clearly either neanderthal or sapiens or both could carry a first gen cross to term under the right circumstances, but that does not mean that most of them were carried to term. And it doesn’t mean that a human could carry a full neanderthal to term safely. Our closest living ape relatives have an estrus cycle, and human gestation is complicated. Those two things alone should give one pause. Maybe I just get stuck in the minutae – I am sure they will develop a uterine replicator tank soon making this point moot. You know, cause there is always money for research on improving womens’ quality of life…

    I think it would be unethical to bring a new human species onto the planet given the homo sapiens track record (and alien invasion genre of films – we are an easily threatened, paranoid bunch). Wooly mammoths are fair game, though.

  75. caekslice says

    you can’t just create a person and then kick them out into the street to fend for themselves

    I actually laughed out loud reading this. Didn’t actually know where you were going with it until a few more lines down.