The Ethics of Neanderthal Cloning
For a break from space stuff, I would like to put forth an ethical conundrum of science; “Should we clone Neanderthals?”
Neanderthals were a branch of humanity (according to mainstream science) that existed for over 450,000 years and coexisted with our homo sapien ancestors 50-60,000 years ago.
They supposedly were less intelligent than homo sapiens and one prevailing theory up until recently said that our ancestors wiped out the less aggressive Neanderthals.
Now there seems to be proof that both branches of humanity where able to interbreed (viva la differance!) and instead of being wiped out, the Neanderthals were absorbed into the larger homo sapien gene pool.
With the advances in genetic engineering, it has become possible to resurrect the Neanderthal race of homo sapiens, but that has started an interesting problem and the the question posed at the beginning of the post:
[…]The Neanderthals broke away from the lineage of modern humans around 450,000 years ago. They evolved larger brains and became shorter than their likely ancestor, Homo heidelbergensis. They also developed a wider variety of stone tools and more efficient techniques for making them. On average, Neanderthals had brains that were 100 cubic centimeters (about 3 ounces) larger than those of people living today. But those differences are likely due to their larger overall body size. Those large brains were housed inside skulls that were broader and flatter, with lower foreheads than modern humans. Their faces protruded forward and lacked chins. Their arms and the lower part of their legs were shorter than modern humans’, making them slower and less efficient runners, but they also had more muscle mass. Their bones were often thicker and stronger than ours, but they typically show a lot of healed breaks that are thought to result from hunting techniques requiring close contact with large game such as bison and mammoths. They had barrel-shaped chests and broad, projecting noses, traits some paleoanthropologists believe would have helped Neanderthals breathe more easily when chasing prey in cold environments.
Recent studies comparing Neanderthal and modern human anatomy have created some surprising insights. “Neanderthals are not just sort of funny Eskimos who lived 60,000 years ago,” says Jean-Jacques Hublin, a paleoanthropologist at Max Planck. “They have a different way to give birth to babies, differences in life history, shape of inner ear, genetics, the speed of development of individuals, weaning, age of puberty.” A study comparing Neanderthal and modern children showed Neanderthals had shorter childhoods. Some paleoanthropologists believe they reached physical maturity at age 15.
As different as Neanderthals were, they may not have been different enough to be considered a separate species. “There are humans today who are more different from each other in phenotype [physical characteristics],” says John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin. He has studied differences in the DNA of modern human populations to understand the rate of evolutionary change in Homo sapiens. Many of the differences between a Neanderthal clone and a modern human would be due to genetic changes our species has undergone since Neanderthals became extinct. “In the last 30,000 years we count about 2,500 to 3,000 events that resulted in positive functional changes [in the human genome],” says Hawks. Modern humans, he says, are as different from Homo sapiens who lived in the Neolithic period 10,000 years ago, as Neolithic people would have been from Neanderthals.
Clones created from a genome that is more than 30,000 years old will not have immunity to a wide variety of diseases, some of which would likely be fatal. They will be lactose intolerant, have difficulty metabolizing alcohol, be prone to developing Alzheimer’s disease, and maybe most importantly, will have brains different from modern people’s.
Bruce Lahn at the University of Chicago studies the evolutionary history of the genes that control human brain development. One gene that affects brain size particularly interests him, a variant of the microcephalin gene, which Lahn thinks may have entered the human gene pool through interbreeding with Neanderthals. If that turns out to be true, roughly 75 percent of the world’s population has a brain gene inherited from Neanderthals. Lahn is excited to see what the Neanderthal microcephalin gene sequence looks like. “Is the Neanderthal sequence more similar to the ancestral version or the newer, derived version of the gene?” Lahn asks. “Or is the Neanderthal yet a third version that is very different from either of the two human versions? No matter how you look at it, it makes that data very interesting.”
The Neanderthals’ brains made them capable of some impressive cultural innovations. They were burying their dead as early as 110,000 years ago, which means that they had a social system that required formal disposal of the deceased. Around 40,000 years ago, they adopted new stone-tool-making traditions, the Châttelperronian tradition in Western Europe and the Uluzzian in Italy, that included a greater variety of tools than they had used in hundreds of thousands of years. But even if they were as adaptable as Homo sapiens, the question remains–if they were so smart, why are they dead? Chris Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum believes our species hunted and gathered food so intensively that there simply was not enough room for the Neanderthals to make a living. In other words, they had the same problem as many species facing extinction today–they were crowded out of their ecological niche by Homo sapiens. Finding a place in the world for a Neanderthal clone would be only one dilemma that would have to be solved.
Bernard Rollin, a bioethicist and professor of philosophy at Colorado State University, doesn’t believe that creating a Neanderthal clone would be an ethical problem in and of itself. The problem lies in how that individual would be treated by others. “I don’t think it is fair to put people…into a circumstance where they are going to be mocked and possibly feared,” he says, “and this is equally important, it’s not going to have a peer group. Given that humans are at some level social beings, it would be grossly unfair.” The sentiment was echoed by Stringer, “You would be bringing this Neanderthal back into a world it did not belong to….It doesn’t have its home environment anymore.”
There were no cities when the Neanderthals went extinct, and at their population’s peak there may have only been 10,000 of them spread across Europe. A cloned Neanderthal might be missing the genetic adaptations we have evolved to cope with the world’s greater population density, whatever those adaptations might be. But, not everyone agrees that Neanderthals were so different from modern humans that they would automatically be shunned as outcasts.
“I’m convinced that if one were to raise a Neanderthal in a modern human family he would function just like everybody else,” says Trenton Holliday, a paleoanthropologist at Tulane University. “I have no reason to doubt he could speak and do all the things that modern humans do.”
“I think there would be no question that if you cloned a Neanderthal, that individual would be recognized as having human rights under the Constitution and international treaties,” says Lori Andrews, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law. The law does not define what a human being is, but legal scholars are debating questions of human rights in cases involving genetic engineering. “This is a species-altering event,” says Andrews, “it changes the way we are creating a new generation.” How much does a human genome need to be changed before the individual created from it is no longer considered human?
Legal precedent in the United States seems to be on the side of Neanderthal human rights. In 1997, Stuart Newman, a biology professor at New York Medical School attempted to patent the genome of a chimpanzee-human hybrid as a means of preventing anyone from creating such a creature. The patent office, however, turned down his application on the basis that it would violate the Constitution’s 13th amendment prohibition against slavery. Andrews believes the patent office’s ruling shows the law recognizes that an individual with a half-chimpanzee and half-human genome would deserve human rights. A Neanderthal would have a genome that is even more recognizably human than Newman’s hybrid. “If we are going to give the Neanderthals humans rights…what’s going to happen to that individual?” Andrews says. “Obviously, it won’t have traditional freedoms. It’s going to be studied and it’s going to be experimented on. And yet, if it is accorded legal protections, it will have the right to not be the subject of research, so the very reasons for which you would create it would be an abridgment of rights.”
Human rights laws vary widely around the world. “There is not a universal ban on cloning,” says Anderson. “Even in the United States there are some states that ban it, others that don’t.” On August 8, 2005, the United Nations voted to ban human cloning. It sent a clear message that most governments believe that human cloning is unethical. The ban, however, is non-binding.
The legal issues surrounding a cloned Neanderthal would not stop with its rights. Under current laws, genomes can be patented, meaning that someone or some company could potentially own the genetic code of a long-dead person. Svante Pääbo, who heads the Neanderthal genome sequencing project at Max Planck, refused to comment for this article, citing concerns about violating an embargo agreement with the journal that is going to publish the genome sequence. But he did send ARCHAEOLOGY this statement: “We have no plans to patent any of the genes in the Neanderthal.”
The ultimate goal of studying human evolution is to better understand the human race. The opportunity to meet a Neanderthal and see firsthand our common but separate humanity seems, on the surface, too good to pass up. But what if the thing we learned from cloning a Neanderthal is that our curiosity is greater than our compassion? Would there be enough scientific benefit to make it worth the risks? “I’d rather not be on record saying there would,” Holliday told me, laughing at the question. “I mean, come on, of course I’d like to see a cloned Neanderthal, but my desire to see a cloned Neanderthal and the little bit of information we would get out of it…I don’t think it would be worth the obvious problems.” Hublin takes a harder line. “We are not Frankenstein doctors who use human genes to create creatures just to see how they work.” Noonan agrees, “If your experiment succeeds and you generate a Neanderthal who talks, you have violated every ethical rule we have,” he says, “and if your experiment fails…well. It’s a lose-lose.” Other scientists think there may be circumstances that could justify Neanderthal cloning.
“If we could really do it and we know we are doing it right, I’m actually for it,” says Lahn. “Not to understate the problem of that person living in an environment where they might not fit in. So, if we could also create their habitat and create a bunch of them, that would be a different story.”
“We could learn a lot more from a living adult Neanderthal than we could from cell cultures,” says Church. Special arrangements would have to be made to create a place for a cloned Neanderthal to live and pursue the life he or she would want, he says. The clone would also have to have a peer group, which would mean creating several clones, if not a whole colony. According to Church, studying those Neanderthals, with their consent, would have the potential to cure diseases and save lives. The Neanderthals’ differently shaped brains might give them a different way of thinking that would be useful in problem-solving. They would also expand humanity’s genetic diversity, helping protect our genus from future extinction. “Just saying ‘no’ is not necessarily the safest or most moral path,” he says. “It is a very risky decision to do nothing.”
Hawks believes the barriers to Neanderthal cloning will come down. “We are going to bring back the mammoth…the impetus against doing Neanderthal because it is too weird is going to go away.” He doesn’t think creating a Neanderthal clone is ethical science, but points out that there are always people who are willing to overlook the ethics. “In the end,” Hawks says, “we are going to have a cloned Neanderthal, I’m just sure of it.”
I’m not sure I agree with Hawk’s rational of cloning the Neanderthal genome, just because we can clone the mammoth’s genome, we should clone the Neanderthals’.
In my view, just because we can, doesn’t necessarily mean we should.
And the ethics of bringing another race of potentially intelligent beings back into existence should be considered. What of their ‘rights?’ Should they be afforded the same as other human beings? What of their ‘nationality?’ Does that influence what rights of being they have?
To me, the legalities of this act should be considered before any ‘resurrection’ is performed.
What do you think?
Dolphin “Pre” Uplift and Joe Capp’s ‘Ten Reasons’
David Brin’s ‘Uplift’ series dealt with issues relating to religion, biology and the ethics of ‘uplifting’ pre-intelligent species to full sapience.
Is this article showing the possibility of uplift, or the first step?
Dolphins have been declared the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as “non-human persons”.
Studies into dolphin behaviour have highlighted how similar their communications are to those of humans and that they are brighter than chimpanzees. These have been backed up by anatomical research showing that dolphin brains have many key features associated with high intelligence.
The researchers argue that their work shows it is morally unacceptable to keep such intelligent animals in amusement parks or to kill them for food or by accident when fishing. Some 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die in this way each year.
“Many dolphin brains are larger than our own and second in mass only to the human brain when corrected for body size,” said Lori Marino, a zoologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who has used magnetic resonance imaging scans to map the brains of dolphin species and compare them with those of primates.
“The neuroanatomy suggests psychological continuity between humans and dolphins and has profound implications for the ethics of human-dolphin interactions,” she added.
Dolphins have long been recognised as among the most intelligent of animals but many researchers had placed them below chimps, which some studies have found can reach the intelligence levels of three-year-old children. Recently, however, a series of behavioural studies has suggested that dolphins, especially species such as the bottlenose, could be the brighter of the two. The studies show how dolphins have distinct personalities, a strong sense of self and can think about the future.
A lot of this is to prevent the killing of these magnificent creatures, but how much is motivated by the scientific reasoning of ‘raising’ them to full sapience and ‘personhood?’
I’m curious to find out.
Scientists say dolphins should be treated as ‘non-human persons’
From Joe Capp’s site ‘UFO Media Matters’; Ten Reasons UFOs Are Extraterrestrial:
The UFO witnesses:
We have the most incredible witnesses who claim what they have seen is a craft doing exactly what a machine would do. We have fighter pilots. Astronauts, even a man who walked on the moon all claiming that something is here. We have witnesses on their deathbed who have reported spaceships and even the smell of the decaying alien bodies. We have excellent witnesses who have been aboard craft that seem to be solid hardware. We have witnesses who have been harmed by UFOs and have proof of the encounter.
The strategic positioning of these objects.
We now know the military was alarmed for a long time at the recording of UFOs visually and on radar at all the major defense facility. These secret documents strongly suggest these object were extremely interested in our atomic bomb build-up and monitored and sometimes interfered with our nuclear missiles. This was not only happening here it was happening around the world. ….UFO bases anyone.
Planetary ETs are a fact.
Although the human race hasn’t gone to the stars we are ETs. In seventy years we have visited practically every planet in our solar system. We have walked on the moon a few times. We have landed craft on the Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Phobos and Titan. We have sent a message, by way of a space craft, to the starts. We did all of this with chemical rockets. What will the next thousand years bring in this technology?
Collaborating evidence. We have tons of radar and other instrumentations that have reinforced the report of pilots who report seeing detailed craft not just lights. Solid object that return radar signals. These craft do everything possible to evade capture and as some pilots know for a fact…these craft will defend themselves. UFO landings trace cases.
Over 3700 hundred cases of UFO landings in America alone. The landing were investigated and chemically analyzed with pronounced differences in the soil retention of water. Some of landing sights stay barren for decades. One landings, of several craft, was witnessed by a whole family. They watched as these several craft lifted off of their field and returned to a large mother ship cylinder above.
Joe Capp is fun to read, his honesty is refreshing.
Not that I find the nuts and bolts theory of UFOs still credible, but the iteration “sufficiently advanced technology would be akin to magic” rings true with Joe.
From the mainstream to the alternative
For this edition of the carnival, Centauri Dreams sends Prospects for Red Dwarf ‘Earths’. Paul Gilster analyzes a new paper by Greg Laughlin and Ryan Montgomery that looks at whether Earth-class planets might be found in the habitable zone around red dwarfs. These stars make up over 70 percent of the galactic population, so such a result would mean vast numbers of potentially habitable planets.
Even mainstream science can be cool at times. Check out the Orbital Hub for this past Friday’s Carnival of Space #95. Good stuff for space junkies.
From the NWO/Police State Department:
The London police have bested their own impressive record for insane and stupid anti-terrorism posters with a new range of signs advising Londoners to go through each others’ trash-bins looking for “suspicious” chemical bottles, and to report on one another for “studying CCTV cameras.”
It’s hard to imagine a worse, more socially corrosive campaign. Telling people to rummage in one another’s trash and report on anything they don’t understand is a recipe for flooding the police with bad reports from ignorant people who end up bringing down anti-terror cops on their neighbors who keep tropical fish, paint in oils, are amateur chemists, or who just do something outside of the narrow experience of the least adventurous person on their street. Essentially, this redefines “suspicious” as anything outside of the direct experience of the most frightened, ignorant and foolish people in any neighborhood.
Even worse, though, is the idea that you should report your neighbors to the police for looking at the creepy surveillance technology around them. This is the first step in making it illegal to debate whether the surveillance state is a good or bad thing. It’s the extension of the ridiculous airport rule that prohibits discussing the security measures (“Exactly how does 101 ml of liquid endanger a plane?”), conflating it with “making jokes about bombs.”
The British authorities are bent on driving fear into the hearts of Britons: fear of terrorists, immigrants, pedophiles, children, knives… And once people are afraid enough, they’ll write government a blank check to expand its authority without sense or limit.
What an embarrassment from the country whose level-headed response to the Blitz was “Keep Calm and Carry On” — how has that sensible motto been replaced with “When in trouble or in doubt/Run in circles scream and shout”?
Great Britain is fast becoming Airstrip One.
Somewhere, Eric Blair is crying.
Hat tip to Boing Boing.
On the “morality” of “uplifting” some animal species to human level “intelligence”:
Biological uplift describes the act of biologically enhancing nonhuman animals and integrating them into human and/or posthuman society. There is no reason to believe that we won’t some day be able to do so; the same technologies that will someday work to augment the human species could also be applied to other animals. The big questions now have to do with whether or not we should embark on such a project and how we could do so in an ethical and responsible manner.
Recently on his blog, David Brin wrote, “[See] Developmental and ethical considerations for biologically uplifting nonhuman animals,” by George Dvorsky… opining that we humans will soon attempt what I described 30 years ago, when I coined “uplift” in several novels that explored the concept from many angles. George’s fascinating paper, might have benefited from more on the sfnal history of the idea. Before me, HG Wells, Cordwainer Smith, and Pierre Boulle depicted humans endowing animals with powers of intelligence and speech – though always in a context of abuse and involuntary servitude. Indeed, those cautionary tales may have helped ensure that it will be done openly and accountably, hence qualifying the tales as “self-preventing prophecies.” Allowing me to be the first to ponder “what if we tried to do uplift ethically and well?”
David Brin, the author of many “Uplift” Series sci-fi novels is the guest blogger at George Dvorsky’s blog this week and has a lot to say on the subject of animal uplift.
But I noticed a few comments around the InnerTubes that have linked to this post asking why should we uplift animals to sapience in order to have “alien” companions? Many have said they wouldn’t be alien at all, only anthropocentric animal versions of ourselves. And some have suggested what the article stated, that we would use them as slaves, (read Cordwainer Smith’s classic, “The Dead Lady of Clown Town“).
Alternative history researchers Zecharia Sitchen and Lloyd Pye have suggested that humanity itself is a result of uplift from hominids by the Annunaki of Ancient Sumerian legends, however, they do have their detractors.
Could the urge to ‘uplift’ come naturally to us because we are a result of the process?
According to Brin’s fiction, that’s the case.
But is it inadvertantly the truth?
Will we “uplift” animals to sapiency?
Transhumanism, Utility Fog and Rules of Uplift
Mac Tonnies sez;
I have a confession to make: I am a “transhuman ufologist.”
So far as I know, this is the first time the term has appeared on the Web, so I’ve yet to see if it has any staying power. But the idea, at least, is simple enough: I see absolutely no contradiction between the “hard” technological realities of the Kurzweilian Singularitarian crowd and the speculation of informed UFO researchers.
We transhuman ufologists are a witheringly small bunch; although I’ve come across provocative discussions about nanotechnology and machine intelligence within the more intelligent corridors of ufology, committed transhumanists approach the subject of UFOs and the “paranormal” with pronounced disdain. The very definition of “skeptic,” for instance, is summarily forgotten; among the more strident and vocal proponents of transhumanism, the very prospect of extraterrestrial visitation via UFO is considered naïve fantasy good for little more than placating true believers with elusive promises of galactic altruism. Certainly, they argue, we’re better off parroting the so-called Fermi Paradox. (link)
I have at one time or another speculated an advanced civilization that has gone through its own ‘Singularity’ event would use utility fog nanotech to present itself to primitive beings at various stages of its development by utilizing current cultural beliefs and mores.
This is a variation of Arthur C. Clarke’s Sentinal/Black Monolith/Bracewell probe method of contact via direct intervention and uplift. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the apes at the beginning of the movie were ‘tweaked’ by the Monolith to be more aggressive and imaginative so they could survive the harsh environment of Africa. After that it left until humans dug up another Monolith on the Moon millions of years later, triggering it to send a message to another in orbit around Jupiter (Saturn in the novel). The idea here being that Mankind was ready for another ‘tweaking’ (Bowman into the Starchild).
In the ‘utility fog’ scenario, the probes didn’t leave, they stuck around to influence humanity during different stages of our development, possibly being the sources of demons, angels, gods, elves, dwarfs, fairies, sprites, other ‘magical’ creatures and of course aliens and UFOs. The idea here being the intelligence as represented by the nanoprobes is prepping the human race for eventual ‘contact’ with it.
I don’t know. My beef with this idea isn’t with Mac, but with the ‘utility fog’ itself if this is the case. It hasn’t been very good or wise at preparing us. It’s like locking a two year old child in a room with a one-way observation window, giving him/her a book about life in the Universe, providing meals on occasion, expounding ‘proclaimations’ via loudspeaker and releasing the person when grown expecting them to behave intelligently. Oh yeah, the person has ‘free will’ to either obey ‘God’ and society, or be punished if they break the rules. And most people still aren’t able to tell the difference between aliens or demons, even if one came up and bit them in the arse! (Or stuck a probe up there anyways!) Some mentors! They put people in jail for that now-a-days!
Of course being alien nano-probes, they could be hardly sympathetic and altruistic to creatures they would consider lab animals. I would counter by saying that if such vast artificial intelligence(s) take it upon themselves to ‘uplift’ pre-sentient creatures, there must be rules and/or code of ethics to follow concerning such projects, as proscribed in David Brin’s Uplift novels. If the rule/laws are broken, the offending race/intelligence is punished. The most severe punishments go to beings who start uplift projects and then abandon them.
There’s no proof of course nanoprobe ‘utility fog’ intelligences are responsible for the UFO or related phenomena, or that we’ve been uplifted. Then again, Mac gives a very compelling thesis why UFO/alien sightings are perceived differently by the diverse peoples/cultures of Earth in prehistory and historically.
But if there’s such a thing as a Galactic Child Protective Services agency, our utility fog teachers should be thrown into the Milky Way crow-bar hotel for gross negligence!