Harvard Prof: Not Seeking Woman To Birth Neanderthal

(e_monk/Flickr/Creative Commons)
(e_monk/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Here's a cautionary tale about research rumors gone wild.

Yesterday, numerous news outlets, from NBC and Fox to the U.K's Independent reported that Harvard professor and renowned geneticist George Church was actively looking for an "adventurous" woman to give birth to a baby Neanderthal. The newspaper asserted that Church has a plan to bring "our long-extinct relative back to life using artificial DNA."

A juicy story, yes, but apparently wrong, Church tells The Boston Herald:

Harvard University geneticist George M. Church, the scientist at the center of the viral vortex, says it was: Way too outlandish, and entirely untrue.
“The real story here is how these stories have percolated and changed in different ways,” George M. Church, a Harvard geneticist who helped kick off the Human Genome Project, told the Herald last night. “I’m sure we’ll get it sorted out eventually.”

Church said his phone was ringing off the hook yesterday with reporters from around the world calling to talk to what they believed, and no doubt hoped, was a modern-day Dr. Moreau — the H.G. Wells character who created weird hybrid animals.

He blames a mistake in an article he says was written off an interview in the German magazine Der Spiegel, badly misinterpreting what he said — that such a cloning might theoretically be possible someday — and arriving at the conclusion that he was actively looking for a woman to bear a cave baby with DNA scavenged from ancient Neanderthal bones. He suggested poor translation skills may be part of the problem.

“I’m certainly not advocating it,” Church said. “I’m saying, if it is technically possible someday, we need to start talking about it today.”

This program aired on January 22, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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