Now that the Neanderthal genome has been reconstructed, my colleague Nicholas Wade reports, a leading genome researcher at Harvard says that a Neanderthal could be brought to life with present technology for about $30 million.
So why not do it? Why not give Harvard’s George Church the money he says could be used to resurrect a Neanderthal from DNA?I’m bracing for a long list of objections from the world’s self-appointed keepers of bioethics, who must see this new Neanderthal issue as a research bonanza. Think of the conferences to plan, the books to publish, the donors to alarm! I can imagine an anti-Neanderthal alliance between the religious right and the religious left, like James Dobson and Jeremy Rifkin — what I like to call the holier-than-thou coalition opposed to new biological technologies.
Yes, John, there will be many, many objections. First, to what end? He continues:
But I’m afraid I can’t see the problem. If we discovered a small band of Neanderthals hidden somewhere, we’d do everything to keep them alive, just as we try to keep alive so many other endangered populations of humans and animals — including man-biting mosquitoes and man-eating polar bears. We’ve also spent lots of money reintroducing animals into ecosystems from which they had vanished. Shouldn’t be at least as solicitous to our fellow hominids?
Here's the problem that I see: Neandertals are also Homo sapiens, but extinct Homo sapiens. And everyone knows it. How would they be resurrected in a way in which they would not be treated as second-class citizens, if citizens at all? The old racial arguments would resurface in a way in which they have not done so for a century or more. Where would we put them? As Dave Frayer points out, there are no humans on the face of the planet that have the whole suite of Neandertal traits. They would be instantly recognizable.
Furthermore, what Tierney doesn't say is that in the places where we have reintroduced animals into environments in which they have vanished, it hasn't always worked. And where animals have been introduced where they weren't there to begin with, it has been disastrous. To be sure, this is not exactly Jurassic Park but, quite simply, there is a reason Neandertals didn't survive beyond 26 ky BP. The world changed, and they didn't change with it. Maybe there was hybridization between the Neandertals and the incoming moderns, maybe not, but Neandertals as they are defined between 100 and 26 ky ago, were outcompeted as a hominid and consigned to the dustbin of history. Lets leave them there.