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Boston (UPI) Jan 22, 2013
A U.S. geneticist from Harvard who helped start the Human Genome Project says he's looking for an "adventurous" woman to give birth to a Neanderthal.
Professor George M. Church of Harvard Medical School's genetics department says his plan to bring back members of the extinct species or subspecies closely related to modern humans may not work, but he thinks his Neanderthal bone-sample analysis is complete enough to reconstruct their DNA.
"It depends on a hell of a lot of things, but I think it can be done," Church told German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel.
"Now I need an adventurous female human," he said.
Church helped start the Human Genome Project, an international scientific research project begun in 1989 with the goal of sequencing, or identifying, all 3 billion chemical units in the human genetic instruction set.
His new plan is to create artificial Neanderthal DNA derived from the genetic code found in the bone samples he analyzed, then put the DNA into stem cells.
These cells would then be infused into a developing human embryo. The DNA -- the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms -- would be strong enough to steer the embryo's development toward that of Neanderthals rather than Homo sapiens, Church told the magazine.
Neanderthals -- believed to have existed in Europe as early as 600,000 years ago and died off about 33,000 years ago -- were not primitive brutes as often thought, but were instead highly intelligent, perhaps more intelligent than modern humans, Church said.
A 2008 University of Zurich study found Neanderthal brains, based on fossils found in Russia and Syria, were the same size as modern human brains when a baby was born but exceeded modern human brains by adulthood.
Neanderthals were also generally taller, more heavily built and stronger than modern humans -- they had particularly strong arms and hands.
"Neanderthals might think differently than we do. They could even be more intelligent than us," Church told the magazine.
"When the time comes to deal with an epidemic or getting off the planet, it's conceivable that their way of thinking could be beneficial," he said.
Church also told Der Spiegel his envisioned cloned Neanderthal would probably not exist alone -- scientists would seek to "create a cohort" to give the clone a sense of identity.
Human cloning is illegal in many countries, but British newspaper The Independent says current laws may not apply since Church is dealing with Neanderthals, not Homo sapiens.
Church said he might need to wait to do his experiment until "human cloning is acceptable to society."
Beyond ethical concerns, some scientists expressed concern to The Independent that the neo-Neanderthal baby could lack immunity to modern diseases and might not survive -- not to mention possible deformities for the baby and risks to the surrogate mother.
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