Danny Tyree: Say ‘Yabba dabba don’t’ to Neanderthal clones
If you’re the average person, you say things like “I wish they’d bring back ‘ABC’s Wide World of Sports’ and full-service gas stations.”
If you’re more like Harvard University geneticist George Church, you say things like “Wouldn’t it be a hoot if someone brought back the long-extinct Neanderthal caveman species?”
Church (whose research in the Eighties laid the groundwork for genome sequencing) told Germany’s “Der Spiegel” magazine of his hopes for taking DNA from Neanderthal fossils, synthesizing additional DNA, creating Neanderthal embryos and putting them in a Homo sapiens womb.
Specifically, Church grants it would take an “extremely adventurous female human” to act as surrogate mother. Compared to the technological hurdles and the multi-nation bans on human cloning, finding such a woman should not be difficult, especially on Friday nights. Of course the potential mother might make some demands. (“No deal unless I can dance on the table and sing karaoke while in labor.”)
Church is tantalized by recent anthropological discoveries that Neanderthals weren’t just dumb animal-like brutes. In many ways they were just as civilized as modern man — maybe even more so. Neanderthal mothers had sophisticated culinary skills, employed cosmetics and didn’t throw out their kids’ old comic books.
Church thinks that the different brains of the Neanderthals would bring a fresh perspective for global problem solving, but that’s not as upright as it sounds. “Hey, Mr. Neanderthal, I’d like to pick your brain” would segue into “And while I’m at it, I’m like to pick your living quarters, your mate, your occupation, your curfew...”
The neo-Neanderthals would live their lives knowing they were guinea pigs and freaks. They could read the writing on the wall — or at least the drawings.
The slightest misstep with gene splicing could produce disastrous results, but I don’t look for anyone to back down once the research grants and commercial licensing deals start rolling. (“Please turn your head ... er, heads ... and cough. See? He’s perfectly healthy!”)
Church acknowledges that scientists could not successfully accomplish the experiment until “human cloning is acceptable to society.” People would have to ask some hard questions first. (“You say Neanderthals are sort of our cousins. Okay, are they the cool cousins who buy alcohol for us, or are they the nerdy cousins who are always leaving their retainer lying around?”)
Ethical questions would have to be settled: Would the Neanderthals be overly susceptible to 21st century illnesses? Would they be overly aggressive in group situations? Would they lean Republican or Democrat in swing states?
Church states that his main goal is to increase diversity. Here’s a way to achieve diversity: put different wallpaper in the padded cell of each of the mad scientist wannabes who embrace this idea!!!
It is my sincere desire that the reverse-engineering of the Neanderthal genome never gets beyond the realm of science fiction, but I take comfort in the long view of history.
If we do have Neanderthals being poked, prodded, exploited and bullied, I have confidence that from within their ranks will come someone who will stand up for the civil rights of this persecuted minority. Someday he will deliver a speech that stirs the masses. (“I have a dream. Granted, it’s a dream about being chased by saber-toothed tigers, but it’s a dream nonetheless.”)
Danny Tyree welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org.