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Biotech Science

Should We Clone a Neanderthal? 990

Posted by kdawson
from the they-are-among-us dept.
SpaceAdmiral writes "Forget cloning a woolly mammothshould scientists clone a Neanderthal? Such a feat should be possible soon, although it raises a number of bioethics concerns, including where to draw the line between humans and other animals."
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Should We Clone a Neanderthal?

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  • by ya really (1257084) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:16AM (#25882321)

    since they had bigger brains. Maybe not the same parts of their brains though.

    If having a bigger brain was the ultimate measure of intelligence, then elephants would be geniuses [natureinstitute.org]

    In fact, brain size does not matter in humans [netcom.com] either. It's just an old wise tale carried over from the 19th century that still haunts us today (as seen here).

  • Re:Not animals (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:31AM (#25882447)

    They are not Homo Sapiens.

    They are Homo neandertalinis.

    Look it up!

    And furthermore, humans are animals. So "not animals" only applies to plant life.

  • by maglor_83 (856254) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:34AM (#25882455)

    It's just an old wise tale

    Old wive's tale.

  • Re:Yes. Yes. Yes. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:39AM (#25882497) Homepage Journal

    We're gonna throw dinner rolls at one another?

    Amazingly enough, the term bunfight [thefreedictionary.com] has nothing to do with fighting or buns (or indeed food of any sort).

    Oh well, it's not exactly like it's the first time a Briticism has been used incorrectly on /.

  • Re:Not animals (Score:5, Informative)

    by Veggiesama (1203068) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:48AM (#25882565)

    Neanderthals are considered to be part of the Homo Sapiens species. Wouldn't the concerns (and legalities) be the same as any human cloning project?

    We both belong to the Homo genus [wikipedia.org], but Neanderthals are H. neanderthalensis, while we are H. sapiens.

    Though here's an interesting paragraph on the Neanderthal page [wikipedia.org] that I didn't know before I browsed around on Wikipedia:

    For some time, professionals debated whether Neanderthals should be classified as Homo neanderthalensis or as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, the latter placing Neanderthals as a subspecies of Homo sapiens. Genetic statistical calculation (2006 results) suggests at least 5% of the modern human gene pool can be attributed to ancient admixture, with the European contribution being from the Neanderthal.[10] Some morphological studies support that Homo neanderthalensis is a separate species and not a subspecies. [11] Some suggest inherited admixture. Others, for example University of Cambridge Professor Paul Mellars, say "no evidence has been found of cultural interaction"[12] and evidence from mitochondrial DNA studies have been interpreted as evidence Neanderthals were not a subspecies of H. sapiens.[13] Homo sapiens mtDNA from Australia (Mungo Man 40ky ) is also not found in recent human genomic pool and mtDNA sequences for temporally comparative African specimens are not yet available.

  • by naticus (615655) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @03:06AM (#25882721)

    It's just an old wise tale

    Old wive's tale.

    old wives' tale.

  • by brit74 (831798) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @03:55AM (#25882993)
    As other people have pointed out, big brains are correlated with intelligence, although it's a bit complicated. If you were to plot total brain size and brain mass/body mass on a 2-dimensional table, you end up with humans in one corner of the table. There are obviously animals with larger brains (whales, elephants), and animals with better brain mass/body mass ratios (rats), but humans have a pretty good combination of both.

    As for the article you link to, they make the claim that if brain mass is correlated with intelligence, then you should also claim that women and short people are dumber. Although, women and short people also have smaller bodies, which means their brain mass/body mass ratio may be equal or better than men. So, who knows what should be the prediction based on that. And, of course, the correlation is certainly not 1.0, so even if a brain mass/intelligence correlation exists, it's not that clear what conclusions you can draw from large/small brains.

    As for neanderthals, their body mass was also larger than humans, so it's unclear whether they would actually be smarter.

    Also, I happen to think that elephants and whales are probably pretty smart. Maybe not as smart as us, but if you take the animal world as a whole, I think the correlation is obvious and undeniable. The smartest animals on earth (humans, elephants, dolphins, apes, etc) have the largest brains on the planet. The only real outlier is birds. Parrots can be very smart - evolution apparently found a way to build a small intelligent brain while still allowing the animal to fly.

    I also found this claim (also from your article) to be amusing: "Early humanoids had a less developed cerebral cortex and therefore could not attain what we commonly call conscious experience. The same could be said for modern apes and dolphins. An ape's brain could get bigger, but unless the cerebral cortex develops in a certain way, the ape will never achieve "thought"." Ha. It's funny in this essay that talks about debunking myths of brain size, that the author introduces his own unfounded beliefs about brains. Who's he to say that apes, dolphins, and early humans didn't have conscious experience? Apes are actually quite smart. They understand the fact that other creatures have brains and sets of beliefs. Apes can recognize their own reflection in a mirror.

    More information on the brain size/intelligence correlation: "Canadian researchers examined the brains of 100 people who were given extensive IQ tests before they died and found a correlation between cerebral volume and intelligence." http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20051223/brainsize_intelligence_20051223/20051223?hub=SciTech [www.ctv.ca]

    "With respect to the question of brain size and intelligence, the most recent review I know of (there have been others) concerning the correlation between IQ and head size looked at 25 separate studies (going back to the turn of the century), comprising 39 independent normal samples (total N = 51,931; Wickett, et al. in press). They report that most correlations range between r = .10 to r = .30, with an n-weighted mean of r = .194. This is highly statistically significant, though head dimensions clearly do not explain very much of the variation in IQ.

    More interestingly, 4 recent studies of this question for the first time derived estimates of brain size from high quality magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), instead of using external cranial dimensions. All 4 studies show much higher correlations: Willerman et al. (1991) report an estimated correlation of r = .35 (N = 40); Andreasen et al. (1993) found a correlation of r= .38 (N = 67); Raz et al (in press) found a correlation of r = .43 (N = 29); and Wickett et al

  • Re:Yes (Score:5, Informative)

    by bigjarom (950328) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @05:04AM (#25883415) Journal
    Shorter, but yes, bigger. They also had larger brains. What they didn't have though was a larger frontal cortex. i.e. they were very likely not as 'smart' as homo sapiens.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @07:38AM (#25884311)

    Assuming his immune system is compatible at all, then yes, our vaccines would work against current diseases. Since all a vaccine does is to prime the immune system with things to recognise.

    Genetically he may not be able to cope with some modern diseases. Or the modern diseases, which evolve in lock-step with us, may no longer infect him.

    Interesting questions...

  • Re:Not animals (Score:2, Informative)

    by BluenoseJake (944685) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:32AM (#25884555)
    If you can interbreed, you are not a separate species.
  • Re:Not animals (Score:4, Informative)

    by Zymergy (803632) * on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:37AM (#25884589)
    Let us not leave out Eubacteria & Archaebacteria (Monera), Protista, as well as the Plantae and Fungi when describing "not animals" (Animalia)...
  • Then by that logic (Score:3, Informative)

    by Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:48AM (#25884653)

    They would be smarter. In case anyone has missed this, Neanderthal Man had a larger brain than us.

    In fact recently some other 'early modern' human fossils from I believe South Africa have been dug up that have significantly bigger brains than us.

    Whales and Elephants, etc have bigger brains too. Brain size isn't necessarily an exact correlate to intelligence.

  • by destroyer661 (847607) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:52AM (#25884683) Homepage

    Just to further that, surface area and efficient use of that surface area comes into play as well. There is a reason for our brains looking like pruned grapes :D

  • Re:Quick question (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @09:58AM (#25885243)

    That is the stupidest idea I've ever heard. Just because you can clone a new Einstein doesn't mean he will automatically grow up to be a genius who likes to ponder the physical world into concise little equations. You would also have to duplicate his lifestyle, diet, upbringing, etc . . .

  • Re:Yes (Score:5, Informative)

    by MBGMorden (803437) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @10:14AM (#25885433)

    At a recent seminar on the event I also found out an interesting fact: most estimates put the average daily caloric intake necessary for a neanderthal at around 7000. Cromagnum man (ie, us) can get along quite fine with 2000.

    As such, a large part of it may have simply been food shortages. Even if you're bigger (or even smarter), if there's simply not enough food available to keep you alive, then you'll die out. Rather than strength or smarts it may have simply come down to efficiency.

  • by ph0rk (118461) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @11:00AM (#25886013)
    Sexually active women using the pill get fertilized eggs from time to time, they just don't implant in the uterus.

    So, maybe use the google before getting on your soapbox.
  • Re:Not animals (Score:2, Informative)

    by Dr La (1342733) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @11:41AM (#25886611) Homepage
    There in reality is no real consensus whether Neanderthals are a subspecies of H. sapiens or a separate species. Placing it in a separate species, as some do, has more to do with the wish to keep "us" (Homo sapiens s.s.) unique, than that it has a factual background.

    In the same line, it is interesting to read the comments here and see how many of them make a distinction between "humans" (i.e., "us") and Neanderthals.

    But why would Neanderthals not be humans too? Because they might (or might not!) be a separate species? Well, they are even by most conservative standards still placed in the genus Homo. Which basically means "human". Is a polar bear not a bear while a brown bear is, because they are different species of bear? Of course not: they are both bears. Likewise, anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals are both humans.

    It is interesting to see how many people nevertheless insist they are not. That has all to do with our perception of "us" versus "them" and wish for "us" to be "unique". It's a "genocentric" (and xenophobic) attitude.

    The same phenomena is reponsible for the ongoing insistence by some that Neanderthals are necessarily cognitively inferior to us, evolutionary necessarily somewhere inbetween us and apes in cognition. This assumption really has no basis.

    Looking at the archaeological record (and I should ad here that I am a paleolithic archaeologist by profession - I research Neanderthal material culture), it is clear that Neanderthals were intelligent beings involved in many activities that were similar to those of anatomically modern humans (and well beyond activities performed by extant apes). They did some things in ways we cannot comprehend, but that does not mean they were less developed cognitively: only that we cannot comprehend it with our cognition (or have been hampered in that, because we assume those differences to be due to a lower level of cognition). Those who do argue for that, merely wish to see it this way.

    Neanderthals were not merely "apes". And they were not something alike to mentally retarded humans. They were different, yes. But not necessarily cognitively inferior (note: many of the "arguments" to the contrary you'll find in popular textbooks on the matter, are either outdated or factually incorrect, and the result of looking at the evidence in a very biased way. That has again more to do with the wish to keep "us" unique and at the top, the hero in the grand narrative of human evolution).

    Even the fact that Neanderthals got extinct and anatomically modern Homo sapiens did not, does not imply that they were cognitively inferior. You try to argue the same for, for example, Tasmanian aborigines (who are now extinct), and you'll rightly be called a racist.
  • Re:What line? (Score:3, Informative)

    by electrosoccertux (874415) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @11:49AM (#25886737)

    You're interested in doing something simply to create discord? That's awfully childish...how does this make you any better than these "religious nutters"?

  • Re:Yes (Score:2, Informative)

    by Archangel Michael (180766) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @12:04PM (#25886931) Journal

    [quote]Also, a few idiots blaming the wrong people and threatening/committing violence does not equal "the Left". It equals a few idiots.[/quote]

    Except, when those idiots are on the "right" and a leftist equates everyone with certain leanings as equivalent to the "few idiots".

    Because everyone who believes in a deity, wants 2nd Amendment upheld and so on is nothing more than another "Tim McVey" or "David Duke".

    I once had the pleasure of running for a College Political office with a nice guy, and some leftist didn't like our political views and said we were nothing more than the KKK. Which was a shock to the nice guy I just mentioned, who happened to be black. Said it was the first time in his life he was called a member of KKK.

    It is easy to use racially charged terms casually, and without thinking. Of course one can call it a "few idiots" and you'd be right. It just seems like the "few idiots" are excused on the left more often, or how else does one explain Robert Bird?

  • by Daetrin (576516) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @12:11PM (#25887041)
    "note the lack of "h" - Neandertal is a placename in Germany; the Neander Valley, and it is spelled that way"

    The Neaderthal skeletons found in Neander Valley were discovered in 1856, before German spelling was regularized in 1901, [wikipedia.org] and thus at the time it was spelled "Neanderthal." Since scientific names are "writ in stone" once they've been formalized the species is always going to be Homo neanderthalensis, or possibly Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, depending on the results of genetic studies.

    Whether the spelling of the common name should be updated to match the current German spelling is debatable, but your insistence that it has to be without an 'h' is just plain wrong. Both spellings are accepted, though as Robert J. Sawyer notes in "Is it Neanderthal or Neandertal?" [sfwriter.com] about other species with similar etymological problems, "those who favor the use of the spelling 'Neandertal man' are notably silent when the topic of Peking man comes up; there's no movement to change that name to 'Beijing man,' even though the city's name is always spelled Beijing in English these days."

    Another question is how to pronounce either "Neanderthal" or "Neanderthalensis," with a 't' sound or a 'th' sound. Again it's a matter for debate and there's no "correct" answer, both pronunciations are accepted. The pronunciation in German is "tal" rather than "thal," no matter which way it's spelled, but that has little bearing on the English/American pronunciation. If it was always proper to use the pronunciation from the original language then, as Robert J. Sawyer pointed out in the above article, the only proper way to pronounce "Paris" would be the way the French do, "par-ee," and anyone who insisted on doing that all the time would not come across so well in America. Given how long English has been around and how many words it has adopted there are too many other examples of adapted spellings and pronunciations that are now considered proper English to count.

    So you can call it whichever you want, but i am quite happy to spell it "Neanderthal" and pronounce it with the "h" sound because that sounds most natural to me, and no reference to current German spelling or pronunciation is a valid argument against me doing so.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @01:47PM (#25888495)

    Well, take a racist sexist X guy and put him around some X people and Y people and he'll congregate with the X people. Then, put him with X males and X females, and he'll congregate with the X males.

    It stands to reason that this would work in the reverse. Put him around elephants and X, Y, and Z people and see him flock to the people regardless of their race.

    People just like to makes distinctions. When I was in high school, we had FCS which was Fellowship of Christian Students. We also had FCA, Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Now, since all the athletes were students, why did FCA exist? People just like to group and exclude/include people(well, when they're being included).

    We're dicks.

  • Re:Not animals (Score:3, Informative)

    by molo (94384) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @04:55PM (#25891221) Journal

    Case 2:It's capable of the lower levels of human functionality. Say, somewhere between Forest Gump and a chimpanzee. Well, in this case, we have an intelligent being, who is a ward of the state, and who is unlike any other being on earth. It has no family, and potentially no human rights. It's entirely subject to the whims of its creators, or to the vagaries of laws that don't cover it. And who is it going to play with as a child? What is it going to do when it's older? How much experimentation is legally and morally allowable? What if it's below the legal threshold of mental function for consent, but is undeniably intelligent?

    I think we already have an animal that meets that criteria, Koko the Gorilla [wikipedia.org]. Check out some of the video of her communications. There have been several documentaries. It is impressive, and she is clearly a thinking self-aware being (dare I say a person?).

    -molo

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