Entries in clone (2)


Harvard Prof Says Neanderthal Clones Possible but Experts Doubt It

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A Harvard geneticist has raised eyebrows by declaring that scientists could make a Neanderthal clone baby if they had an "extremely adventurous female human" as a surrogate.

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 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.

Also, Caplan said, creating a human-like being in a lab for study could be exploitative.

The theoretical Neanderthal family (because Church told Der Spiegel he doesn't think a lone Neanderthal would have a good sense of identity without a cohort) would live under extreme scrutiny even if they didn't have to live within the confines of a lab, Caplan said.  He compared the re-creation of Neanderthals to Frankenstein, noting that the fictional Victor Frankenstein created his monster to prove that he could do it.  But the monster struggled with his own identity and dignity much like a modern-day Neanderthal family would.

Caplan said there's also insufficient knowledge about whether Neanderthals would be too aggressive to flourish in society or whether they would die of an extreme unforeseen allergy.  He compared the latter to the way Europeans accidentally killed the Native Americans by giving them small pox.

And, of course, the United Nations banned human cloning in 2005, although the guidance wasn't as binding as a treaty, Caplan said.  Some states have banned the practice as well, but a few, including California, allow it for research purposes.

Ethics aside, cloning a Neanderthal would be a safety issue, said Ron Crystal, a geneticist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

"Technically, putting together fragments of DNA is feasible," Crystal said.  "Are we putting it together correctly?  We know that one letter in the wrong place can be fatal."

One-letter deformities, called monogenic disorders, include cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, Fragile X syndrome, Huntington's disease, and thousands of other life-threatening problems, Crystal said.

Single-gene mistakes are possible when scientists are cloning an organism for which they have a model of completed DNA, Crystal said.  But a Neanderthal clone would involve much more guesswork because scientists don't have any reference to tell them that they're about to make a fatal mistake.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Cloned Coyotes Claimed by Once-Disgraced Korean Scientist

Comstock/Thinkstock(GYEONGGI, South Korea) -- Just seven years ago, South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk was a worldwide celebrity. International news headlines called him "a pioneer," "doctor clone," and a hero in the field of stem cell research.

In an ongoing project to clone the world's endangered wild animals, Hwang's team announced this week the world's first cloned coyote.

But it has been a rocky comeback for Hwang after a truly "disgraceful" fall.

Hwang steadily rose to fame from 1999 to 2004, announcing a series of successful clones of dairy cows and pigs. His celebrity status was cemented in 2004 and 2005, when his team published articles in Science reporting that they had created a human embryonic stem cell. It was an historic breakthrough, implying patients could seek custom-made treatments for illnesses without worrying about immune reactions.

But that research was found to have been faked -- one of his researchers fabricated the data. It became the scientific scandal of 2005, with scientists around the world asking whether Hwang himself, as head of the operation, knew of the falsified data.

After a tearful press conference at which he apologized "for using erroneous data in the papers" he submitted to Science, Hwang had to face legal charges of embezzlement and bioethics law violations in South Korea.

After that fall, Hwang kept a low profile but continued to seek funding from organizations willing to give him a second chance, and eventually built a new research team focusing mainly on animal cloning. A dozen successful projects include cloning a dead pet dog named Missy for an American businessman in 2007 and the famous 9/11 rescue dog Trakr, who pulled the last survivor out of the rubble of the World Trade Center.

Hwang is now heading the Sooam Bioengineering Research Institute with strong financial support from the Gyeonggi provincial government. On top of the cloned coyotes unveiled this week, he is working on lycaons, African wild hunting dogs categorized by International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) as a red-list threatened species. As of 2008, there were only 3,000 to 5,500 lycaons remaining in Africa.

Hwang admits that attempts to clone sheep and a goat have proven unsuccessful, but if he breaks through with the lycaon, he says the next cloning goal would be an extinct mammoth -- using the womb of an elephant, its closest living relative, as a place for a cloned embryo to grow.

But his financial supporter, Gov. Kim Moon-Soo Gyeonggi Province, says he has a much grander dream beyond a baby mammoth: "Our original dream is cloning dinosaurs. It may be difficult now...but we believe we will shake the world once again by creating a live Jurassic Park that would be incomparable to Spielberg's imaginative Jurassic Park."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio