Sunday, 20 January 2013

"Adventurous" Surrogate sought....

"Adventurous" is an understatement!  Harvard geneticist George Church has told German newspaper Der Spiegel he was close to being able to clone a Neanderthal.  However, he would need a human woman to lend her womb to the project.
"I have already managed to attract enough DNA from fossil bones to reconstruct the DNA of the human species largely extinct.  Now I need an adventurous female human," said Church.
Whilst sounding like the stuff of pulp science fiction, Professor Church certainly has the necessary scientific pedigree.  He is a pioneer in synthetic biology, which aims is to create synthetic DNA and organisms in the laboratory.  During the 1980s, he helped initiate the Human Genome Project that created a map of the human genome.
And genetic resurrection of extinct species has precedent:  in 2009, researchers in Spain successfully cloned an extinct subspecies of ibex (although it died just minutes after birth).
There might also be some architectural issues:  according to a 2008 study of a Neanderthal infant skeleton "the head of the Neanderthal newborn was somewhat longer than that of a human newborn because of its relatively robust face,.  Neanderthal woman generally had a wider birth canal than her homosapien cousin.  Neanderthal birth was simpler, because Neanderthal infants didn't have to rotate to get to the birth canal.  Otherwise, the processes were very similar.
I doubt we'll be welcoming back our Neanderthal ancestors anytime soon.  However, the fact that a Neanderthal baby is now a theoretical possibility highlights just how far and fast reproductive technology has advanced.  These advances have doubtless helped parents who yearn to have for their own children who - whether through accident or design - cannot do so in the traditional way.
Beyond the technological advances, however, are some profound philosophical questions:  the field of reproductive medicine is continually confronted with bio-ethical dilemmas.  Just because we technically can do this, should we?

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