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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 Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @01:53AM (#25882153)
    since they had bigger brains. Maybe not the same parts of their brains though.

    Could be (quite the role-reversal?) that they were the thoughtful ones, and we were just meaner.

    Who knows? We don't.
  • What line? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by name*censored* (884880) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @01:59AM (#25882197)

    As far as I'm concerned, there really is no point in drawing a line between human and animal. If we decide it's to be treated as a human, then it would obviously be deemed too destructive and unable to cope in society - as many people with mental issues are. At that point, we would segregate it from society in a humane habitat (as we do with mental patients, or at least the ones that can afford it :P). Now, obviously, no scientist would recieve funding for it's creation if it couldn't be studied (remember, it's not unethical to study human beings, if they aren't harmed and if it's consented to by someone with the mental capacity and authority to decide). If we decided it was an ANIMAL, obviously we would treat it like a zoo creature or pet (I'm sure no-one intends to eat this thing, even if that were legal). We would skip the mental evaluation and simply put it in a humane habitat, as we do with animals at the zoo or pets, and study it humanely (it's unethical and probably illegal to cut animals up for study). Either way, the end result is the same - the being is kept somewhere where it's not dangerous to itself or regular homo sapien sapiens, and studied. I don't understand why someone would wish to draw a line between animal and human for ethical reasons, when it would be treated the same due to it being mentally incapable of anything else.

  • by Nourn (1415007) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:02AM (#25882217)
    Considering that many people feel that Neanderthal DNA is integrated with human DNA, is there any point to this experiment?
  • NO (Score:2, Interesting)

    by larryau (983008) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:05AM (#25882237)
    Absolutely No. It is immoral and not just from a religious stand. Forget religious objections. It is simply ethically wrong. Where would it stop? It would go beyond just satisfying some intellectual curiosity to cloning species to harvest their organs.
  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:05AM (#25882239)
    No, we definitely do not. FIRST we would need to determine that they were "people", and believe me there would be a great deal of pressure to decide not. And there is a very good chance that they would not be.

    We have been very charitable in the West in determining who, mentally and in body, is a "person" and who is not. Perhaps out of guilt from deciding that wrongly in the past? I don't know. Nevertheless we have granted "rights" to "people" who fit the definition only by stretching that definition. Worldwide in recent decades (if we can ignore certain parts of the Middle East and Persia), there has been more tolerance of who is a "person" and who is not, by local society's definition.

    Even so, I am sure there would be an outrageous amount of resistance to this. I am not sure that even we Westerners are ready for this quite yet.
  • by rapierian (608068) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:05AM (#25882241)
    Cloning a mammoth is such a likely possibility because we have so many frozen specimens throughout Siberia and Canada. As far as I know, there are no Neanderthal specimens in any reasonably comparable state.
  • by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:16AM (#25882327)

    Housing, Nursery, or a Zoo?

    I think that may become the biggest obstacle.

    When that is decided, should we let him/her go to school and socialize or should we let keep him locked up for study.

  • Not so. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:32AM (#25882451)
    In fact, people of high IQ do in fact tend to have larger brains. This is a statistic that has been demonstrated repeatedly over many years.

    Many people like to use Einstein as anecdotal evidence, as he did in have have a larger brain than the average. But all anecdotal evidence aside, there is a positive correlation that cannot be responsibly denied.

    BUT... having said that, here is a subspecies that had a demonstrably different brain. How different was it? Which parts large, which parts smaller? Those are very significant facts about which we are mostly ignorant.
  • Re:Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Narcocide (102829) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:36AM (#25882469) Homepage

    What if its worse? What if they're smarter?

  • Re:NO (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AlanS2002 (580378) <sanderal2@ho t m a i l . c om> on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:39AM (#25882491) Homepage

    Absolutely No. It is immoral and not just from a religious stand. Forget religious objections. It is simply ethically wrong. Where would it stop? It would go beyond just satisfying some intellectual curiosity to cloning species to harvest their organs.

    What is ethically wrong about cloning anything. Period. I don't think the question even touched on harvesting organs. Your objection is simply irrelevant.

  • by JoeGee (85189) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:41AM (#25882509)
    It has nothing to do with the Geico commercials. As other posters have noted, the simple fact of the matter is the "resurrection" of a non-human species, be it homo neanderthalensis (homo sapiens neanderthalensis) or homo florensis, will happen some time this century.

    The DNA we have extracted from mammoth hair is from two individual mammoths who died between twenty and sixty thousand years ago. The supposed limit of DNA viability is roughly sixty thousand years. H. neanderthalensis went extinct less than fifteen thousand years ago. H. florensis is thought to have been around as recently as the past thirteen thousand years. I'd say we stand a good chance of recovering genetic material from either, or both of these species.

    Should we bring these species out of evolutionary retirement? It's a dilemma:

    1. How badly do scientists want to cheese off the world's major religions? I am ambivalent towards this. Ya know, some of the self-righteous pious freaks we have walking around spouting nonsense today deserve a swift kick in the nads. Still, is it worth the potential backlash?

    2. Is this ethically justifiable? What could we do with a living genome that we could not do with that genome in a comparative study? How will we justify the potential gain in knowledge versus the rights of the resultant being when he or she is carried to term, reared, and socialized? Will he or she have full rights? Will he or she be able to be valued within society? Is some loony with a gun going to go "big game hunting" or "abominatinon-killing"?

    3. Someone else in the comments discussed dealing with this individual if he or she is significantly psychologically and mentally different from us. What can we offer such an individual besides life in a high tech zoo?

    4. Some things will be forever beyond us. We'll never hear true Neanderthal language, we'll never observe untainted Neanderthal culture, and a feral child experiment with any of the homo genus we'd be capable of bring back is pretty much unconscionable [wikipedia.org]. Are we looking for answers where there are none?

    I guess it comes down to what we can learn versus the risks. I think the one thing we might be able to learn from h. neanderthalensis is how we as a species look to an outside observer. Do we really want them to look us in the eyes and tell us what they see?

    I'm not certain we're prepared for it.

    -Joe
  • by stephenhawking (571308) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @03:15AM (#25882789) Homepage
    Actually the body to brain mass ratio is directly correlated to intelligence. This may not matter among humans, but across separate species it does. The Elephant has a ratio of 1/560, where humans are 1/40. So elephants may have larger brains, but relatively speaking human brains are MUCH larger in ratio to our body mass.
  • Re:No. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bradbury (33372) <Robert,Bradbury&gmail,com> on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @03:54AM (#25882981) Homepage

    I would suggest that you go learn some molecular biology before you make comments like this.

    Here is how you would do it.
    1) Sequence the ancient DNA and assemble it until you feel you have a "complete" genome sequence.
    2) Either mutate an existing human genome using the technology Sangamo as or assemble a complete synthetic genome using technology such as that Synthetic Genomics is developing.
    3) Replace the genome in an existing human cell with the Neanderthal artificial genome or create a artificial cell using the artificial genome (this is the part which hasn't really been demonstrated yet). Alternatively if one can create an artificial nucleus you could presumably transfer it into an enucleated human cell using the standard nuclear transfer techniques used in cloning.
    4) Take the neanderthal cell and subject it to current iPS procedures to generate a neanderthal stem cell.
    5) Transfer the nucleus of this cell into a human egg (standard cloning procedures again).
    6) Implant said egg (now functioning as a fertilized neanderthal zygote) into a human host (or if synthetic wombs are available one of those).
    7) Wait ~7-9 months for either C-section birth or natural birth.

    Of course there are a lot of things that can go wrong in this process so one is probably going to have to do it multiple times. But its the same basic methods that will probably be used to resurrect the woolly mammoth.

    There is no need to undertake gene therapy on any human child or adult. I cannot see any "unethical" argument because one never has to work with a human embryo. I would also point out that we will be doing human embryo modifications relatively soon to correct genetic defects. Watch and see how the debate develops once the genes for intelligence become more clearly known. Argue the morality of knowingly giving birth to a child of below average intelligence!

  • Incorrect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @03:56AM (#25883003)
    You are simply wrong about the rhythm method; it aims to time sex such that the fertilized egg does not implant. That is the WHOLE point of the method! It does absolutely nothing to address whether an egg gets fertilized. (The egg most commonly gets fertilized in the fallopian tubes, one to many days before implantation. There is no way to reliably control or time the release of eggs, so this is effectively random. The only thing that can be timed with any regularity is the "fertility" period, which means timing the menstrual cycle... which means when it is possible for the egg to implant.) The two most commonly used measures for the rhythm method are basal temperature and cervical mucus, which are both tied to the menstrual cycle, NOT the release of eggs.

    Second, "murder" does imply intent. And if (as described above) you INTEND to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting (which, again, is the DEFINITION of the rhythm method... look it up!), then you would be committing premeditated murder! According to your own logic.

    You did bring up one good point, but you even got that one wrong. Life does not start at conception. A sperm is a living cell. An egg is a living cell. According to accepted definitions of "living organisms".

    But if you meant that "human life" starts at conception -- a valid human "person" -- then again, by the arguments above, you had damned well better rethink your behavior. Because you are likely already a murderer.

    You said it, I didn't. I am just pointing out where your facts and logic are faulty.
  • by Y.A.A.P. (1252040) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @04:39AM (#25883255)

    I guess it comes down to what we can learn versus the risks. I think the one thing we might be able to learn from h. neanderthalensis is how we as a species look to an outside observer. Do we really want them to look us in the eyes and tell us what they see?

    Assuming they are cognitively capable of expressing an opinion as an outside observer, what horrible thing could they say about us that hasn't already been said about us by us (and is for a certain percentage of the population, depending upon what is said, absolutely true)?

    So, yes, I would be interested in knowing how an outside observer views us. It may also prove of some use in girding us for reactions from an intelligent alien species, should we ever come across any.

    I would also have to say that a living example of the genome would confirm information about its capabilities, where we could only ever be "almost certain" about a dead one. Besides, the technology on reading a genome and determining capabilities in that manner is much further away than that of creating a living example and seeing what it really is capable of doing.

    Of course, all of this is coming from someone who will have no responsibilities as to the care of the life that is created by this experiment. The opinion of those who will have to change the kid's diapers carries alot more weight than mine does.

  • by Saffaya (702234) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @04:41AM (#25883263)

    It is probable that reviving a human from so far in time means his DNA doesn't have the defenses we evolved against current diseases ?

    Would our vaccines even work ?

  • Re:Yes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Count Fenring (669457) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @05:08AM (#25883437) Homepage Journal

    Exactly. Which is why parent's bear analogy doesn't work.

    The other reason being that survival of a species is a hugely complex thing, with many potential factors. I remember reading one thing (although it may have been science fiction) suggesting that our ability to lock our knees is what let us survive while the neanderthals died.

  • by cheekyboy (598084) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @05:10AM (#25883459) Homepage Journal

    What about the kid that had brain cancer, and they removed like 90% of his brain, but he was just as smart, zero reduction in ability.

    Surely that prooves, size does not equal processing power, like gates does not equals MIPS in cpus.

    Isnt 90% of the brain redundancies and backups. Who knows maybe nurons have qantum access in time, and store information in a time warp, rather than atoms.

  • Re:What line? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TapeCutter (624760) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @05:29AM (#25883581) Journal
    "Neanderthals had art, and they had burial rituals and also tools. Who says they are dumb? It could've been that Sapiens just wiped them out through aggression."

    They also wore skins and took care of frail relatives. From what I have read it seems to me "aggression" is the most plausible answer. A significant behavioural difference was that Sapiens occupied the high ground, most predatory mammals have the same preference and (regardless of species) take a dim view of other competing predators inhabiting their territory.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @05:56AM (#25883755)

    1. Science is the quest for knowledge and truth. It is agnostic to religion by nature. It is not a matter of whether you want to piss off religious people, but rather what do we gain from doing this in terms of knowledge.

    Lineus talked about classification of humans and suggested that should he put them in the same group as other primates, he was sure that he would have all the theologians on him for it; but that perhaps he should do it in the name of science, because that was where the evidence pointed.

    Today, scientists usually know better than to hold back scientific advances out of the risk of offending some people believing in the sky pixie.

    How dare you even suggest that my ancestors gods (Odin, Thor, et.al.) are not existing or that the world was not created when Odin slew the giant Ymir. Do you really think that it is reasonable for scientists to hold back theories because they might clash with My ancestors' views of the world. Why would any religion be treated differently?

    2. A cloned Neandertaler would probably be capable of verbal communication, culture (they found music instruments) and a lot of other things. It is pretty obvious that human rights would apply to them (some states even extend some human rights to all great apes these days (though those states are in minority)), but in this case we would be talking about a full individual with ability to speak our language. I am sure he/she would be treated as a human even according to law.

    3 & 4. Yes, but it would prove beyond doubt whether they where capable of complex linguistic and verbal communication, and how high their brain capacity actually was. It is clear that they where able to survive by themselves, would the same be true for a mentally disturbed human?

    There are certainly answers to gain from it, but the main problem as I see it is whether it is morally correct to clone a sentient being when no one else of his / her kind are around. I mean, he / she will have certain reproductive instincts.

  • by 4D6963 (933028) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @06:01AM (#25883777)

    It wouldn't grow up in society. You don't even need to grow up in society to be a healthy person. That's how you can homeschool your children. Not like a Neanderthal could go to regular school anyways or interact normally with people, you can't really project your childhood on a Neanderthal and try to imagine what would happen.

    This being said, you must keep in mind how much this would teach us, in biology, medicine (I would hardly be surprised if it taught us something that could be used to cure something, i.e. a genetical resistance to one of our diseases or something), neurology, ethnology, philosophy, linguistics (what do you know, maybe we could probably teach them a spoken language, or even written! And knowing what their cognitive and speech abilities are would be amazing), and so on.

    As for being lonely, just make twins, or triplets, that would also teach you about social interactions between themselves, and you'd probably see a form of communication emerge which would be of course very interesting to learn about.

  • by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2@gd a r g a ud.net> on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @06:14AM (#25883865) Homepage
    Are the base elements (neurons, dendrids...) larger in a larger (elephant, large dog vs small one...) brain ?
  • Re:Yes (Score:2, Interesting)

    by aussie_a (778472) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @07:32AM (#25884279) Journal

    I love how calling Bush a monkey because of his physical appearance is okay. But if you do it to Obama because of his physical appearance you get called a racist.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:01AM (#25884415)

    Leave it to the /. types to want to clone a neanderthal. There are plenty of those here already!! What is needed is a whole bunch of Einsteins. So obvious even a caveman would agree.

  • by meringuoid (568297) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:55AM (#25884699)
    Evolution optimizes for efficiency only when it matters to survival or reproduction.

    The brain alone accounts for 20% of the human body's oxygen consumption and 25% of glucose consumption. If 90% of the brain is surplus to requirements, then optimising for efficiency could produce a saving of 22.5% of the body's glucose supply and 18% of the oxygen supply. Does the ability to survive on 22.5% less food matter to survival?

  • by hengdi (1202709) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @09:23AM (#25884907)

    I thought the best measure was the ratio of total_cells / inputs? For humans, it's about 50:1 - for every nerve input into the brain you have 50 cells to process it. For dogs, it's 3:1, for cats 4:1. A Chimpanzee is about 12:1 and if I remember correctly a dolphin is about 10:1.

    Elephants have a very large brain but they obviously also have a huge number of inputs due to the size of the nervous system.

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @10:17AM (#25885467)

    We shouldn't clone just one but enough for a family group with enough genetic diversity for breeding. Being higher level mammals, they would certainly need a cultural framework provided for upbringing. The ideal environment would probably be one where human researchers live with a troop of docile primates -- not chimps because they're too violent but along those lines, go the whole Jane Goodall route. The Neanderthal children will then have exposure to a more typical ape society as well as human. With this exposure, we can see if they're more human or ape-like in development. Can you imagine the scientific excitement if we discover they can speak? And just imagine our surprise if they do fall within the range of average human intelligence.

  • Re:Yes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by penguin_dance (536599) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @11:39AM (#25886575)

    Actually there's another argument. First off, Neanderthals had larger brains than us...just because they died out didn't mean they were stupid. There's even proof that they could have used a form of spoken language [discovery.com]. There could be a lot of things, weather, disease, famine, etc. They were also stronger. Neanderthals generally hunted in enclosed, wooded areas where they would attack prey in close proximity [discovery.com]. The lack of spears or other tools may be explained by the area they hunted. You can't throw a spear in a heavy woods. Or their build may not be suited to throw something like a spear accurately.

    Then there's the theory that they didn't totally die off, but interbred with early modern man. And there's been no evidence I've seen that says their DNA was incompatible with ours or they would have produced a "mule."

    And where did you get the idea that their body was "designed for the ice age." They had no better protection from the cold that we do. Here's one theory [discovery.com] that where it's believed they couldn't adapt their clothing to something that would help them survive the cold.

    I think it will come down to a multiple of problems, no one thing wiped out the Neanderthal and I'm one who does believe there are some who are carrying a few of their genes. And although I'd really love to see theories laid to rest, IMO, he shouldn't be cloned like some animal. I believe he is at least a cousin and doesn't deserve to be turned into a lab rat or exhibit.

  • Re:Yes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FredFredrickson (1177871) * on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @11:52AM (#25886763) Homepage Journal

    I agree, though, the rules should apply to everyone. Everyone deserves to be treated with basic respect, in my opinion.

    I agree. I've got nothing against any race. I grew up in a diverse area, and I think it's normal. Some people in the North Eastern US where I am now (say, northern NH and Maine) don't see many colors other than white, and they get nervous around.. *other colors*.

    But if the rules applied to everyone, then that means that not only can I not call black people the "n" word (which would *AND* should get me a beat down), but black people gotta stop calling me cracker. I mean seriously.

    I show respect to all people that I meet. But I swear, if another bra-burning man-hater decides equality is 65% theirs, I just don't know what to do.

    Anyway, the best way to insult somebody is to avoid the stereotypes. Calling Bush a monkey is funny cause it's true. Calling Obama a monkey is a racial slur. Call obama a clown or something that has no current connection with his race, and you're clear. That's why we can call white people porch monkeys. ... no no it's ok. I'm taking it back.

  • Re:Yes (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Verteiron (224042) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @01:29PM (#25888165) Homepage

    Depending on who you talk to, the genes for blond and red hair are thought to have come from Neanderthal. It's possible they didn't die out so much as were absorbed.

  • Re:Incorrect (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @02:53PM (#25889461)

    You're still ignoring intent with your arguments - which is where I think the parent was going. If fertilized eggs don't end up working for whatever reason while someone is trying to have a child, that is just nature.

    You don't seriously think they have a problem with nature taking it's course (or maybe you do since you have such a low opinion of them)

    You aren't seriously so caught up in semantics that you can't see the difference....

    Their problem isn't with biological processes, or medical problems that prevent implantation or whatever - it's with act of discarding it on purpose . . a human choice.

    Religion and more generally human ethics is not concerned with biological nitpicks - they are concerned with the willful actions of individuals.

    I'm not coming down on either side, but the argument of that side is not so ridiculous as you attempt to make it sound here.

  • Addendum (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @03:04PM (#25889605)

    I mean seriously, take a step back and look at what you're saying.

    You're saying that the couple trying to have a child is in the same boat morally as someone who knows they are pregnant and aborts a child.

    This is absolutely absurd and I'm pretty sure nobody would accept it. So you have to re-tool your argument to fit reality.

    Intent matters. All institutions from courts to religion recognize this but you are intentionally ignoring it for the sake of whipping yourself into a frenzy over how stupid "those people" are.

    It's a silly straw man.

  • Re:Yes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cyberax (705495) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @03:53PM (#25890251)

    AK-47 doesn't help much against bears too.

    I (briefly) served on military base in Siberia, and almost the first thing we were told is that you shouldn't use AK to shoot bears. With a lot of chilling stories of people who tried it.

    PS: bears were a problem there. They usually do not come close to people. But if a hibernating bear wakes too early or can't start hibernating, it can become mad from hunger (there's not much food during the winter) and start attacking people.

  • Re:Yes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hey! (33014) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @05:15PM (#25891579) Homepage Journal

    You are correct. However, I think the original poster has a point. The fact that they became extinct and we did not does not prove we are smarter. We could be better adapted in other ways. I can think of several dozens of ways we might be better adapted off the bat: we might have better immune systems. We might have been better at storing food as fat. We're appear better adapted for a nomadic lifestyle, giving us a survival advantage.

    However, here's the interesting one: going by the skeletons, the size of the attachment points of tendons and so on, Neandertals were powerful brutes who could take apart an elite modern strength athlete with ease. It's been estimated that Neandertals could lift as much as 2000 pounds, twice the current world deadlift record.

    Neandertal skeletons also reveal two other interesting features. They often show signs of broken bones. The nature of these injuries have lead some to speculate that Neandertals often wrestled large prey to the ground. The other feature is that the majority of Nandertals skeletons show signs of malnutrition during development.

    Modern humans, by comparison, are puny wimps. This gives us lower energy requirements, which is a survival advantage. Imagine two equally intelligent species, one much more physically powerful but with high energy requirements, and one much less powerful but better able to survive periods of famine. The latter might well be spurred to rely on its intelligence more.

    So, I'm speculating that having to make do with less meant we discovered more possibilities in our greatest asset, which is our intelligence.

  • by Pharmboy (216950) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:50PM (#25894177) Journal

    Except that Neanderthals are classified as either Homo sapiens neanderthalensis or Homo neanderthalensis, so they are either a "type" of human being, homo sapiens, or a cousin, but still "homo", meaning "human". I think they would be covered by human rights. Granted, that wouldn't stop some from trying.

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