Just in time for Halloween: America’s medical tinkering rolls merrily along
At the staid and stately institution known as Harvard Medical School there is a small group of scientists in need of a non-medical lady volunteer. Why? Oh, nothing too far out of the ordinary. They just want a woman to consent to being impregnated with a genetically modified pre-human primate. They want somebody to actually give birth to a Neanderthal.
And you wonder why we became a medical heretic.
Well, this is where you may want to get up and fix yourself a nice, soothing drink, before you sit down read the rest of this particular episode of the American medicine Twilight Zone.
Doctor George Church is the primate pushing the envelope in a very weird case. George happens to be a rising star in the world of human genetics. He is one of the founders of the group which mapped the human genetic code – the Human Genome Project. He is considered a near-genius in the complex discipline called “synthetic biology”.
Church wants to resurrect Neanderthals – a species that disappeared from the earth about 350 centuries ago. He believes he can do this in his modern Frankenstein lab, of course, by cloning, then reconstructing, ancient DNA. This in turn would involve implanting the freaky live embryo into the uterus of a modern human woman.
Church reports that his team has gathered and studied enough Neanderthal DNA from recovered bone fragments to reconstruct cave men. And if this reminds you at all of the plotline of Jurassic Park – it should. the DNA would be injected into human stem cells, and after the necessary growth period, the modified stem cells would be squirted into a fertilized human embryo and implanted into a human surrogate. The expected result? Why, the development of a Neanderthal baby.
Of course, Church poo-poos the jaw-dropping ethical and societal safety consequences of genetic tinkering. Some biologists have voiced dismay about the likelihood of genetic errors resulting in mentally and physically deformed Neanderthals. A resurrected species from 35,000 years ago would have absolutely no immunity to modern diseases.
Bio-ethicist Bernard Rollin states that cloning an extinct primate poses serious ethical challenges. How might Neanderthals even function in a human-dominated world?
“I don’t think it’s fair to put people into a circumstance where they are going to be mocked and probably feared,” Rollins said.
“It is hard to know where to begin with the ethical and safety concerns,” says Philippa Taylor of the Christian Medical Fellowship.
Experts worldwide have called for a moratorium on human genetic modification. But the warnings fall on deaf ears. In February, the British Human Fertilization Authority authorized the Francis Crick Institute permission to perform genetic modification experiments on human embryos.
“The Human Fertilization Authority is now the first in the world to perform this uncertain and dangerous technology,” said Anne Scanlan of the nonprofit group LIFE. “It has ignored the warnings of over a hundred scientists worldwide and been given permission for a procedure which could have damaging, far-reaching implications for human beings.”
George Church simply smiles an says, ” I think it can be done.”
Here’s one little item you can take to the bank: if scientists can EVER whip up cave men in the lab, you can bet your sweet bippy they’ll do it. They’ll do it so they can say they did it.
They’ll do it for the instant fame and likely fortune. Their faces will be immortalized in the media, right next to the faces of their creations. “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!”
Shoulder-shrugged consequences have never provided creators with much more than an ethical speed bump. Human see – human do.
Do you think Steve Jobs and Steve Wosniak would have held off on their cool little, personal computer creations 40 years ago? I mean, had they gazed into the future to see all the teenage “body-shaming” suicides? The ISIS use of their technology to blow people up?
Not on your life.