Bringing a Neanderthal Baby into the WorldFifty-eight year old pioneer of genomics and synthetic biology George Church has revealed that he is very close to being able to clone a Neanderthal baby. In case you've forgotten, Neanderthals are Pleistocene-era humanoids that have been extinct for over 30,000 years. Church claims to have extracted enough DNA from fossils that he can bring this idea to fruition. All he says he needs is an "adventurous female human" to act as a surrogate mother, which means the woman would carry the child until it's ready to be born.
One of the problems with this idea is that Neanderthal babies have more elongated heads than human babies. In the past, Neanderthal women had wider birth canals as a result. A female human's body may not be able to properly handle the dimensions of the child. Fortunately, there's always the option of a C-section.
If you're thinking all of this seems a bit outlandish or impossible, think again. Four years ago, Spanish scientists were able to clone a subject of the ibex subspecies, which is also extinct. The subject died immediately after birth, but the experiment was still successful because the cloning process worked. The first step necessary for this kind of experiment has already been completed. Scientists have sequenced the Neanderthal genome. The second step is to divide the genome into many fragments, synthesize these fragments, and get them into a human stem cell. Church himself states that if they do this over and over again, each stem cell will be closer to the original Neanderthal. His lab has already created the procedure with which to do this.
Alex Knapp, a Forbes Staff Writer, has already discussed his lack of confidence in this project due to multiple factors. First off, he believes that there could be issues with the DNA because of DNA's short half-life and how old the DNA Church would use is. This DNA from various Neanderthals has apparently been frozen for 16 years, and as of yet, no mammal has ever been successfully cloned using a mix of DNA from different individuals.
All of the clonings so far have used the DNA of a specific individual. Another problem he brings up is that scientists do not know if Earth's current environment is able to sustain a Neanderthal because the world has so vastly changed since over 30,000 years ago. Knapp believes that if this experiment is to be successful, it will require multiple female surrogates and will not be accomplished any time soon.
There are also ethical implications with an experiment like this since scientists are not sure that the subject would survive. Despite this, Church is pressing on with his search for a female to act as surrogate for the cloning subject. It is not yet clear what kind of time frame he plans to work in.