Thursday, November 20, 2008

This Is Ridiculous

The New York Times has an article by Nicholas Wade on Regenerating a Mammoth for $10 Million. It outlines a possible method for re-creating extinct organisms from a knowledge of their DNA sequence. The idea is to produce a mammoth.

I suppose there's nothing wrong with this kind of speculation. After all, we all did it back when Jurassic Park first came out. But there's a time to be serious as well. Why in the world would we want to spend $10 million of valuable research money to bring back the mammoth? I can see the importance of resurrecting the dodo or the sabre tooth tiger, but mammoths? Who need them? Do they even taste good?

Wait a minute ... there's even more exciting news in the New York Times article. George Church, a "genome tecchnologist" at Harvard Medical School was interviewed. He describes out a way to resurrect Neanderthals.

The full genome of the Neanderthal, an ancient human species probably driven to extinction by the first modern humans that entered Europe some 45,000 years ago, is expected to be recovered shortly. If the mammoth can be resurrected, the same would be technically possible for Neanderthals.

But the process of genetically engineering a human genome into the Neanderthal version would probably raise many objections, as would several other aspects of such a project. “Catholic teaching opposes all human cloning, and all production of human beings in the laboratory, so I do not see how any of this could be ethically acceptable in humans,” said Richard Doerflinger, an official with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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.
What a clever way to get around all the ethical issues (not)! However, aren't we missing the point here? Why would we want to clone a Neanderthal in the first place? (BTW, you need two of them.)

What if the Neanderthals turn out to be smarter than us—a distinct possibility? Wouldn't they take over all the good jobs, like university professors? And what if they turn out to be stupider than the average human? Don't we already have enough creationists?

[Hat Tip: john hawks weblog: Clone your own Neanderchimp baby?]


  1. There's a feature in this weeks nature on bringing back the mammoth (and they've got the mammoth genome too, but who really cares - its not even annotated). Their conclusion is that we've got a long ways to go technologically speaking before we can do it.

    $10mil should cover the first few years grants, but its gonna take a lot more then that until your kids can go see snufalufigus at to zoo.

    Oh, and guess where the mammoth DNA for the sequencing came from - ebay...

  2. "What a clever way to get around all the ethical issues"
    Really? There are quite good arguments to add chimpanzees to the genus Homo

  3. What if the Neanderthals turn out to be smarter than us—a distinct possibility? Wouldn't they take over all the good jobs, like university professors?

    Nah....they'd have to do a post-doc or two (or four) first, and even if they WERE smarter than the rest of us, there still wouldn't be enough jobs to go around.

  4. If they were really smarter than us, they'd be able to figure out (unlike us) that the joy of current-day university professoring didn't justify all the years of grad studenting and post-doccing. :)

  5. Something in this reminded me of the "Manpanzee."

  6. One reason that's been raised, in all seriousness, for cloning mammoths... ranched mammoth meat.

    I do not joke.

    Apparently there's a market for idiots with more money than they know what to do with. So we might bring them back into existence just to make steaks out of them.

  7. I think Larry would rather see that money spent on more "english" stuff such as extreme ironing, or "academic" haute couture