“The Christian resolve to find the world evil and ugly, has made the world evil and ugly.” Friedrich Nietzsche
Artist’s representation of a modern man and neanderthal side by side
Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD
Perhaps twenty different animals have been cloned so far. Among these the one with the closest evolutionary link to humans is a monkey. Monkeys fall in a biological group called primates, which hosts humans as well, along with other apes.
Apes are much closer to humans than the primates.
We make great effort to preserve apes and their habitat, for it has obvious implications in research about human evolution and psychology. Gibbons, including the lar gibbons and the siamangs are commonly referred to as lesser apes. Orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and humans. are collectively described as the great apes.
We have taken great interest in our distant relatives but so far have ignored our closest cousins, Neanderthals.
When St. Paul conceived his Christian theology, he had no idea about Neanderthals, as he had not met any, for they had been extinct for a few thousand years and Sir Charles Darwin had not been born yet. So, he conceived of Original Sin in Adam and Eve, who existed some 6000 years ago and before biology of heredity was known, he conveniently had all humans inherit the Original Sin.
He did not know that modern humans existed for thousands of years before Adam and Eve. His theology worked well until we got our modern biology and Darwin proposed his theory of evolution and evidence started piling, by the tons in its favor.
Neanderthals went extinct no earlier than about 33,000 years ago, and probably more recently than that. No Neanderthal fossils more recent than 30,000 years ago have been found; among the most recent are those found in the Vindija Cave in Croatia, which are between 33,000 and 32,000 years old. However, evidence at a site in Gibraltar suggestive of fire use by Neanderthals raises the possibility that they might have survived there until as recently as 24,000 years ago. Cro-Magnon (early-modern-human) skeletal remains showing certain “Neanderthal traits” have been found in Lagar Velho (Portugal) and dated to 24,500 years ago, suggesting that there was an extensive admixture of the Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal populations in that region.
But, first a few words about what we do for our some what distant relatives the great apes.
Orangutan mother with her baby
Orangutan Island is a documentary television series, in the style of the successful series Meerkat Manor, that blends more traditional documentary filming with dramatic narration. The series was produced by NHNZ with creator Judith Curran also acting as the series producer. Animal Planet’s Martha Ripp is the executive producer of the series, and Lone Drøscher Nielsen of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, the founder and manager of the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Reintroduction Project, regularly appears with the orangutans in the show. The series premiered on Animal Planet on November 2, 2007, with new episodes airing Friday nights. A second season began airing in November 2008.
The Nyaru Menteng Care Center has 650 orangutans
The Nyaru Menteng Care Center is situated 28km outside of Palangka Raya, the capital of Central Kalimantan. It is located within the boundaries of the Nyaru Menteng Arboretum, a 62.5 ha lowland peat-swamp forest ecosystem, founded in 1988 by the Ministry of Forestry Regional office of Central Kalimantan.
The aim of the Nyaru Menteng Care Center is to rescue orangutans that have been displaced from their habitat or held in captivity as illegal pets, and through quarantine and half-way housing release them back into their natural environment.
The clinic, quarantine facilities and socialization cages are inside a fenced area of 1.5 ha, while mid-way housing is at the farthest end of the Arboretum. The project has good forest for the smallest orangutans and is undisturbed by visitors. The larger orangutans are situated on half-way islands in the Rungan River, located eight kilometers away by road. On these islands the orangutans are free to roam and learn important forest survival skills.
The Nyaru Menteng Care Center employs more than 150 people including vets, technicians and orangutan babysitters. Nyaru Menteng also aims to help protect large areas of untouched forest for this purpose. There are over 650 orangutans at Nyaru Menteng.
Chimpanzees in National Chimp Haven sanctuary in Keithville, Louisiana
Over the last few decades there has been robust research involving chimpanzees. Recently, however, an advisory body has advised that the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) should dismantle a decades-old colony of 360 chimpanzees, retiring all but 50 or so of the animals to a national sanctuary, the agency was told on 22 January, 2013 in a long-awaited report.
Arthur Caplan is the Drs. William F and Virginia Connolly Mitty professor and director of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, wrote yesterday in an article in CNN, Don’t clone a Neanderthal baby:
Despite a lot of frenzied attention to the intentionally provocative suggestion by a renowned Harvard scientist that new genetic technology makes it possible to splice together a complete set of Neanderthal genes, find an adventurous surrogate mother and use cloning to gin up a Neanderthal baby — it ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.
Nor should it. But there are plenty of other things in the works involving genetic engineering that do merit serious ethical discussion at the national and international levels.
Some thought that the Harvard scientist, George Church, was getting ready to put out an ad seeking volunteer surrogate moms to bear a 35,000-year-old, long-extinct Neanderthal baby. Church had to walk his comments back and note that he was just speculating, not incubating.
Still cloning carries so much mystery and Hollywood glamor thanks to movies such as “Jurassic Park,” “The Boys From Brazil” and “Never Let Me Go” that a two-day eruption of the pros and cons of making Neanderthals ensued. That was not necessary. It would be unethical to try and clone a Neanderthal baby.
Why? Because there is no obvious reason to do so. There is no pressing need or remarkable benefit to undertaking such a project.
I believe that Arthur Caplan has ignored at least two very distinct advantages. Cloning neanderthals will give us new insights into the so called missing links of evolution, especially language and may even provide us with cures of diseases like autism. We can certainly offer a few islands to neanderthals, like we have refuge for other great apes.
Cloning Neanderthal will give us further insights into genetic diseases and human genome project and additional advantages and boon that we cannot even conceive today, given our lack of information.
Science always yields new technology that could not have been conceived when the science was being developed.
Keeping the focus on Neanderthals and cloning them is good science as well as good religion. It constantly reminds us that there is no such thing as Original Sin, for which Jesus had to die on the cross. It was only in St. Paul’s imagination, given the constraints of his time.
All of us are born innocent, it is time to celebrate the innocence of all human babies by cloning Neanderthal babies. Neanderthal babies will have genetic material from before Adam and Eve and will finally vindicate humanity from Paul’s sin.
Original sin is St. Paul’s obsession with alleged death of Jesus on the cross and not the fall of Adam and Eve and Neanderthal babies will be the poster children for our modern theology.
Very interesting and informative.
Thanks for sharing. Does the Jamaat have a policy/verdict on this kind of cloning…?
Thank you Mustafeez for your comment.
Here I am just adding some additional useful information about Neanderthals and suitable links.
Humans and Neanderthals share a common ancestor with chimpanzees — our next closest mammalian relative — that goes back between five and seven million years. Comparing the human genome with that of chimps tells us a lot about evolution over millions of years. But by having the Neanderthal genome sequence — now 55 percent completed — and comparing that with modern humans, we can learn much more about evolutionary changes over the last 30,000 years.
It may be that the DNA of other prehistoric human groups also are intermixed in our own DNA. Much like with Neanderthals, scientists extracted ancient DNA from the skeletal remains of another ancient cousin known as the Denisovans. The remains — a finger bone — were found in a cave in Siberia and showed that Denisovans were cousins of Neanderthals. They lived in Asia and disappeared about 40,000 years ago. Their DNA is found today in Melanesians.
The Neandertal Genome Project
An international consortium of researchers has sequenced the genome of our closest relative, the Neandertal.
In a paper released in Science on May 7, 2010 the team reports the sequencing of an initial draft of the genome. The sequence was generated from several Neandertal fossils from Croatia, Germany, Spain and Russia using high-throughput sequencing technologies.
Results indicate that Neandertals are slightly more closely related to modern humans outside Africa. The team also identified several genomic regions that appear to have played an important role during human evolution.
Press release (Max Planck Society) “The Neandertal in us” (07 May 2010) [pdf]
Press kit including images
Science video: The Neandertal in us (14.07.2010)
“A draft sequence and preliminary analysis of the Neandertal genome” (Green, R.E. et al., SCIENCE, 07 May 2010)
Cloning a pure Neanderthal would be a great idea but perhaps to your disappointment, he or she will not need to live in a zoo. Almost 60% of Europeans have Neanderthal mtDNA and since different species do not mix, they were actually Human for all effects and purpose. Neanderthals were perhaps even smarter than Homo Sapiens from recent discoveries, especially their “science” such as the Lascaux drawings of the constellations to a margin of error of 0.366%. Chance are that if a Neanderthal baby was born today he or she would be able to take over your blog in no time. On the other hand, they are not relatives to all current human groups, only to Europe and the Middle East. Asians have a more complex mix which includes Denisovan and Homo Erectus, again showing that humans have been around a lot longer if we include other groups. We would perhaps be very surprised to see a so-called Homo Erectus wearing a suit and tie, working at a bank but that would be the case if pure H. Erectus was still around. Current research suggests Sapiens to be roughly 600,000 years old but Neanderthal goes back to almot 1 million and Erectus to over 2 million. And this may still be wrong by a longer stretch into the past.