HALLE, GERMANY: TO GO WITH AFP STORY (FILES) File picture taken 28 July 2004 shows a photographer taking pictures of the Neanderthal man ancestor's reconstruction, displayed in a show of the Prehistoric Museum in Halle, eastern Germany. Germany celebrates 2006 the 150 anniversary of the Neanderthal man's first discovery by quarry workers in the Neander valley, near Dusseldorf in August 1856. AFP PHOTO DDP/MICHAEL LATZ GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read SEBASTIAN WILLNOW/AFP/Getty Images)
Neanderthals like the one depicted in this museum reconstruction died out tens of thousands of years ago, but geneticist George Church says it may be possible to bring their DNA back into the gene pool.
Pioneering Harvard geneticist George Church suggests that the day is coming when we'll want to reverse-engineer the Neanderthal genome and pass the now-extinct creatures' advantages to our own progeny. All that's needed would be an "extremely adventurous female human" to serve as a surrogate mother.
During an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, Church was asked whether a Neanderthal baby would be born in his lifetime. "That depends on a hell of a lot of things," the 58-year-old replied, "but I think so."
Is he serious?
Well, Church is serious about the promise of synthetic biology, which involves tinkering with the chemical components of DNA to add artificial twists to the code of life. Microbes could be tweaked to produce better biofuels or harness solar power. White blood cells could be rejiggered to fight cancer or other diseases, using a tamed form of the HIV virus. And extinct species could be brought back to life through a combination of cloning and genetic engineering.
The species-resurrection scenario would involve inserting the reconstructed nuclear genetic material from the extinct creature into the living egg of a closely related present-day species, sparking the cell into dividing, and then implanting the resulting embryo into the womb of a female from the present-day species. It's been discussed in the context of using elephants to bring back mammoths, or chicken hens to bring back dinosaurs.