This may go down as one of the oddest job postings in history: A respected Harvard professor of genetics has proposed finding an "extremely adventurous female human" to serve as surrogate mother for a cloned Neanderthal baby.
Besides saying that the cloning of a live Neanderthal baby would be possible in our lifetime, Dr. George Church told Der Spiegel magazine that using stem cells to create a Neanderthal could have significant benefits to society. "The first thing you have to do is to sequence the Neanderthal genome, and that has actually been done," Church said.
Scientists completed the first sequence of the Neanderthal genome in 2010, finding genetic evidence suggesting ancestors of modern humans successfully interbred with Neanderthals, at least occasionally. More recent research has suggested Neanderthal DNA makes up 1 percent to 4 percent of the genomes of modern Eurasians.
"The next step would be to chop this genome up into, say, 10,000 chunks and then ... assemble all the chunks in a human stem cell, which would enable you to finally create a Neanderthal clone," Church told Der Spiegel. [The 10 Biggest Mysteries of the First Humans]
The benefits, according to Church, include an increase in genetic diversity. "The one thing that is bad for society is low diversity," Church said. "If you become a monoculture, you are at great risk of perishing. Therefore the recreation of Neanderthals would be mainly a question of societal risk avoidance."
Not everyone, however, shares Church's enthusiasm for cloned Neanderthals, in light of the ethical issues involved.
"I don't think it's fair to put people ... into a circumstance where they are going to be mocked and possibly feared," bioethicist Bernard E. Rollin of Colorado State University in Fort Collins told the British newspaper The Independent.
It's also possible a Neanderthal baby would lack immunity to contemporary infectious diseases, and therefore might not survive, the Independent reports. Neanderthals, our closest known genetic relatives, died off some 30,000 years ago. (However, recent research has suggested Neanderthals and other extinct humans, such as the Denisovans, might have endowed some humans with robust immune systems.)
"Setting aside the ethical issues behind creating the lone survivor of an extinct human species, doomed to be a freak under the microscope of celebrity ... I have to question Dr. Church's contention that it would really be that easy to clone a Neanderthal," Alex Knapp said in Forbes.
"Other mammals have been cloned. But at a cost - clones often experience a host of health problems," Knapp said. "For example, the first cloned sheep, Dolly, was one of 29 cloned embryos. He was the only one to survive."
Any surrogate mothers chosen to give birth to a Neanderthal clone might also suffer, Knapp said. "The reality is that success would require dozens of women - many of whom would almost certainly go through the trauma of miscarriage and stillbirths that appear to be inevitable when it comes to cloning.
"The ethical implications of just this simple aspect of the process are pretty damning," Knapp told Forbes.
Nonetheless, Church believes the challenges can - and should - be overcome.
"We can clone all kinds of mammals, so it's very likely that we could clone a human. Why shouldn't we be able to do so?" he told Der Spiegel. "It depends on a hell of a lot of things, but I think it can be done."
Get More from LiveScience
10 Things that Make Humans Special Top 10 Weird Ways We Deal With the Dead The Freakiest Medical Conditions This article originally appeared on LiveScience. All rights reserved.