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precarious since 1997 | by maryann johanson

question of the weekend: Should we clone Neanderthals?

The current issue of Archaeology magazine has a fascinating article revealing that scientists are very close to sequencing the DNA of a Neanderthal woman who died in what is now Croatia 30,000 years ago. And then:

The ability to use the genes of extinct hominins is going to force the field of paleoanthropology into some unfamiliar ethical territory. There are still technical obstacles, but soon it could be possible to use that long-extinct genome to safely create a healthy, living Neanderthal clone. Should it be done?

The article goes on to explore some of the ethical, moral, and legal aspects of both sides of the question. I find it all utterly riveting. The science geek side of me wants to scream, “Yes! Let’s do it!” But the emotional side of me wonders what life would be like for such a person, who would be more alone than any of us homo sapiens could possibly imagine. The science geek side of me knows that even cloning an individual would not bring back into existence Neanderthal culture, which is well and truly dead to us forever (unless we can invent a time machine, of course). But the emotional side of me wonders what new perspectives on, you know, life, the universe, and everything a different intelligence might have to share with us.
We’re already cloning sheep, dogs, and other higher mammals with great success. As far as technical difficulty goes, human cloning cannot possibly be much more difficult — on a genetic level, are humans more complicated than dogs? (I wouldn’t be surprised, in fact, if human cloning had already been achieved secretly.) And I have no doubt that as soon as we can clone extinct animals, we will. And I’m not alone in that:

[John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin] believes the barriers to Neanderthal cloning will come down. “We are going to bring back the mammoth…the impetus against doing Neanderthal because it is too weird is going to go away.” He doesn’t think creating a Neanderthal clone is ethical science, but points out that there are always people who are willing to overlook the ethics. “In the end,” Hawks says, “we are going to have a cloned Neanderthal, I’m just sure of it.”

What do you think? Should we clone Neanderthals?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD/QOTW, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTW sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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