When geneticist George Church talked about cloning Neanderthals in his book and subsequent interview with Der Spiegel news weekly, it sounded like something out of Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" coming to life. But experts say that safety and ethical hang-ups mean the first Neanderthal birth in 30,000 years is probably fiction, too.
"I understand what George is saying. It's interesting. But I don't think it will ever happen," said Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the NYU Center for Bioethics. "It lurches too close to exploitation. It rubs up too closely as starting to turn into bringing somebody into existence just as an object of other people's interest."
Fragments of Neanderthal DNA have been found in fossils throughout in Europe, and Church said they could be put together to create an embryo for implanting into a human surrogate.
Ideally, he said, people would be able to learn from Neanderthals, which are humans' closest extinct predecessors, because their enlarged craniums hint at different thought processes from humans. He said Neanderthals' presence could also create more genetic diversity, but Caplan said it's unclear whether it would be possible for humans to breed with Neanderthals.