In a recent interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, George Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, said the rapid growth of technology could help researchers recreate the extinct species down the line.
“In particular, reading and writing DNA is now about a million times faster than seven or eight years ago,” Church said during the interview. “Another technology that the de-extinction of a Neanderthal would require is human cloning. We can clone all kinds of mammals, so it’s very likely that we could clone a human.”
In the interview, Church described the process:
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.
The interview went viral, leading to what Church called “outlandish” headlines, according to the Boston Herald. Church later said a misinterpretation caused people to think he was calling for the process to happen now.
“I’m certainly not advocating it,” Church told the Herald. “I’m saying, if it is technically possible someday, we need to start talking about it today.”
Church, who is known for his research that laid groundwork for genome sequencing and the Human Genome Project, said there is a “hell of a lot of things” that would depend on the cloning process, too.
The Harvard professor told the German magazine that we could benefit from the process because Neanderthals may have a different thought process than humans, however.
“My role is to determine what’s technologically feasible. All I can do is reduce the risk and increase the benefits,” he told the magazine.
Of course, the Neanderthal baby would need a sidekick, and a plausible environment to grow up in, in order to have some sort of identity.
And don’t expect dinosaurs or cavemen anytime soon, the geneticist expert said, based on the limit of finding and locating DNA fragments.
To find out more about Church’s research, check out his latest book “Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves,” co-written with Ed Regis.
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