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Wanted: an 'adventurous' surrogate for a Neanderthal baby (update: eventually)

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neanderthal skull (wikimedia commons)
neanderthal skull (wikimedia commons)

It seems like fodder for a science fiction movie, but George Church is dead serious: he needs a surrogate mother for a Neanderthal baby. Church, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, says he's close to cloning a Neanderthal baby — the first in more than 30,000 years. Speaking to Der Spiegel, Church said that once such cloning technology has matured, all he would need is an "adventurous female human" to act as a surrogate.

Reviving an extinct human ancestor may seem like a ludicrous premise, but it's not as farfetched as it may seem. Church says he's already extracted enough fossil DNA to reconstruct the DNA of a Neanderthal child, and he's been very outspoken about the feasibility of bringing one to term. There's even a precedent for this breed of genetic resurrection, as well. In 2009, researchers in Spain successfully cloned an extinct subspecies of ibex, though it died just minutes after birth.

It's not clear whether Church will be ready to clone a pre-historic human anytime soon, though he says doing so may provide new insight into evolution, while potentially opening new doors for genetic engineering, as well. "Let’s say someone has a healthy, normal Neanderthal baby," Church said during an interview with Bloomberg last year. "Well, then, everyone will want to have a Neanderthal kid. Were they superstrong or supersmart? Who knows? But there’s one way to find out."

Update: Church has since clarified the comments he made to Der Spiegel, telling the Boston Herald that his meaning may have been lost in translation. The geneticist stressed that, contrary to some reports, he is not actively seeking a surrogate mother for a Neanderthal baby — he just thinks it could be a possibility one day. "I’m certainly not advocating it," Church said. "I’m saying, if it is technically possible someday, we need to start talking about it today."