Personally, I think we should start with a dodo, and then work our way up the ethical ladder from there.

… We know roughly how the sequence of life ran forward in time. What about running it backward? …

Last week in Nature, scientists reported major progress in sequencing the genome of woolly mammoths. [see this] … Now, according to Nicholas Wade of the New York Times, biologists are discussing “how to modify the DNA in an elephant’s egg so that after each round of changes it would progressively resemble the DNA in a mammoth egg. The final-stage egg could then be brought to term in an elephant mother.”

Cool, huh? But that’s not the half of it. Wade notes:

The full genome of the Neanderthal, an ancient human species probably driven to extinction by the first modern humans that entered Europe some 45,000 years ago, is expected to be recovered shortly. If the mammoth can be resurrected, the same would be technically possible for Neanderthals.

from Slate


  1. #1 Russell
    November 26, 2008

    My starting assumption would be that neanderthals are close enough to us that we should apply the same rules about cloning modern humans to cloning neanderthals.

  2. #2 Stephanie Z
    November 26, 2008

    Sure, we could clone one, but does anyone know how to raise one?

  3. #3 Matt K
    November 26, 2008

    Presumably a Neanderthal Person would be intelligent enough to grasp the fact that he or she is an experimentally produced relic of an extinct group with no future. I can’t be sure about our hypothetical Paleozoic humanoid, but this would depress the hell out of me. I would be very curious to see it done (and I do support efforts to clone Woolly Mammoths) but this seems overly cruel to me.

  4. #4 The Science Pundit
    November 26, 2008

    Olivia Judson chimed in on this topic this morning.

    Through cloning, we are learning how to reverse those commitments, something that may, one day, lead to revolutionary medical treatments. Likewise, learning to build a genome, whether of a mammoth or anything else, will certainly be interesting, and will probably be important in ways that we canít foresee.

    And yet. No matter how much I enjoy thinking about the science of resurrection ó and I do ó I have to admit that the absence of mammoths isnít exactly a pressing problem. What is pressing is the number of species we are currently in danger of losing. It would be a shame if, in 200 years, our descendants were wondering whether to try and resurrect the elephant or the polar bear, the albatross or the mourning dove.

    Letís get our act together. Letís prevent that first.

  5. #5 Romeo Vitelli
    November 26, 2008

    “What is pressing is the number of species we are currently in danger of losing.”

    The British Natural History Museum is actually working on preserving DNA from endangered species in case the conservation efforts fail. Cloning extinct species may become routine.

  6. #6 Irene Delse
    November 26, 2008

    Uh-oh, science copying science fiction again! Jasper Fforde, of the “Thursday Next” books, should ask for co-authorship…

  7. #7 HP
    November 26, 2008

    One difference between mammoths and Neanderthals is that there are huge ecosystems that evolved in concert with mammoths in North America and Northern Eurasia. So, we have ecological spaces that are in trouble due to invasive species and unnatural situations for native species in the Great Plains and Siberia, because there are plants and small animals that depend on mammoths for their reproductive strategies, and in the absence of mammoths, they are struggling against invasives.

    Whereas the same cannot be said for Neanderthals. Reintroducing elephantine herbivores into the ecologies of North America and northern Eurasia would have demonstrable benefit for native plant species, but these areas already enjoy the presence of hominids, for better or worse. Cloned Neanderthals would have nothing to offer southern Canada or Siberia that they don’t already enjoy courtesy of Homo sapiens.

  8. #8 Bob W
    November 26, 2008

    I’m not sure anyone should worry too much about the well-being of a cloned Neanderthal. Do you realize how much money Geico would pay him/her to be in their commercials?