Monday, February 11, 2013

Neanderthal no

You may have heard the headline a few weeks ago: "Adventurous woman sought to give birth to a Neanderthal baby." The request reportedly came from a Harvard professor, which made it a little suspect because of the obvious ethics implications. Well, a few days later the truth came out, but the original story had already flooded the Internet and people were beating the professor's door down for more information. His name is George Church and he is a well-respected biogeneticist at Harvard Medical School. He had given an interview to the German publication Der Spíegel, and attributes the problem to a poor translation. He had been speaking theoretically about the possibility of cloning a Neanderthal In this passage:

"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."

Ironically enough, I learned from my friend Sue yesterday that most of us have DNA from Neanderthals in our systems. They did not actually die out, but were absorbed by and intermingled with the people who ended up in Europe. So people of African descent do not have Neanderthal genes, but everyone else is 4 to 5% Neanderthal!


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