George Church, a Harvard University genetics professor who assisted with the Human Genome Project in the 1980s, believes that scientific advances in reading and writing DNA could one day lead to the de-extinction of Neanderthals, the closest relative of modern humans.
“The reason I would consider it a possibility is that a bunch of technologies are developing faster than ever before,” Church told Der Spiegel
. “The first thing you have to do is to sequence the Neanderthal genome, and that has actually been done.”
Church, 58, said scientists might be able to produce a Neanderthal in his lifetime.
He said that the next step is “chop this genome up into, say, 10,000 chunks” and synthesize them.
“Finally, you would introduce these chunks into a human stem cell,” he told the publication. “If we do that often enough, then we would generate a stem cell line that would get closer and closer to the corresponding sequence of the Neanderthal.”
He said that scientists are now able to clone many kinds of mammals.
“So it's very likely that we could clone a human,” he said. “Why shouldn't we be able to do so?”
Asked about the ethical and legal implications of such a procedure, Church noted that cloning is not banned in all countries. "And laws can change, by the way," he said.
A recognized leader in synthetic biology, Church believes that humans may one day develop new characteristics as the lines among species are blurred.
“So far, the definition of different species has been that they can't exchange DNA,” he said. “But more and more, this species barrier is falling. Humans will probably share genes with all sorts of organisms.”
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