George Church hit a nerve when he recently discussed re-creating Neanderthals with an "adventurous human female" surrogate, in Der Spiegel. The media attention rapidly became fierce, with dozens of outlets carrying the remarks. Yesterday, Church told the Boston Herald that the whole kerfuffle was based on "poor translation."
As for cloning a Neanderthal, he said, "I'm certainly not advocating it
… I'm saying, if it is technically possible someday, we need to start
talking about it today."
It's good to hear Church disavowing the idea of using genetic
engineering, synthetic biology and human surrogates to create a
Neanderthal clone baby, at least for the time being. But it's
disingenuous of him to shift all the blame onto the translation process.
The phrase that clearly got the most attention was "adventurous female
human" — and that comes straight from the prologue of his own recent book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves (co-authored with Ed Regis, published in October 2012):
If society becomes comfortable with cloning and sees value in
true human diversity, then the whole Neanderthal creature itself could
be cloned by a surrogate mother chimp — or by an extremely adventurous
Is Church personally looking for a human surrogate to gestate a
Neanderthal clone, right this minute? No. Is he willing to openly
advocate for the scenario that he describes in some technical detail?
Not forthrightly, and both in his book and in the interview that sparked
the recent furor, he includes "ifs" and caveats. Does he think that the
process will be technically feasible in the foreseeable future?
Emphatically yes. He's been talking about this and similar projects for
several years. For example:
New York Times, 2008, discussing the recreation of Neanderthals:
Dr. Church said there might be an alternative approach that would
"alarm a minimal number of people." The workaround would be to modify
not a human genome but that of the chimpanzee, which is some 98 percent
similar to that of people. The chimp's genome would be progressively
modified until close enough to that of Neanderthals, and the embryo
brought to term in a chimpanzee.
"The big issue would be whether enough people felt that a
chimp-Neanderthal hybrid would be acceptable, and that would be broadly
discussed before anyone started to work on it," Dr. Church said.
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Posted in Animal Technologies, Egg Retrieval, Eugenics, Inheritable Genetic Modification, Media Coverage, Pete Shanks's Blog Posts, Reproductive Cloning, Sequencing & Genomics, Surrogacy
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