Science and Society--Human-Neanderthal Hybrid: Storms, Ethics, and a Surprise

By Denise Miller Holmes

George Church, one of the major drivers of the Human Genome Project, has also been busy studying the DNA of Neanderthals, those ancient peoples who are genetically close to modern humans but still have enough differences as to be called Homo neanderthalensis instead of Homo sapiens.

An ethical storm brewed when articles surfaced in early 2013 quoting Church as wanting an "extremely adventurous female woman" to be a surrogate mother for a Neanderthal clone baby. The Neanderthal fetus would be created from the DNA derived from a Neanderthal jaw bone with any missing DNA filled in with synthetic genetic information. The YouTube video below shows a basic explanation of synthetic DNA.

The quote about needing an "adventurous female" is from Church's book Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves, and you can imagine the ethical concerns that just the title evokes in whomever has any socially-responsible leanings.

The quotes from the magazine Der Spiegel show Church as having no personal thoughts of ethics. He delegates that responsibility elsewhere. "[T]he prerequisite, of course, would be that human cloning is acceptable to society."

So, as long as society turns a blind eye, anything is acceptable?


And the lack of empathy or compassion for this Neanderthal experiment alarms me. What kind of conditions would the hybrid child be raised in? Would he/she go to school? Would he/she be raised by the corporation in a lab? If the child goes to a normal school, how abusive will the other children be? How cruel is it to treat a child as if he/she is an experiment? And, what about the mother, will she ever see her child?

Of course, the child may not be born functional. Would they kill it and keep experimenting until they had a functioning Neanderthal child?

Good thing Church has retracted his call (like, within a week) for that adventurous female. In fact, he says that he never had any real plans. Taped interviews seem to contraindicate that, as does The Der Spiegel article, which took the idea from Church's book.  My belief is that he retracted his idea because there was backlash. Could it be that enough people balked that it caused him to pause? I hope so, because I want to live in a world where people are up in arms about something like this.

It worries me when scientists treat people like things. That is what ethics is about--treating people respectfully because we all have value. Doing anything less than treating people with respect is objectifying them, and people are not objects. We are WHOs, not ITs.

Not long after Church's book release with it's subsequent interviews, there was a surprise! Paleontologists found an ancient human-neanderthal hybrid bone. It appears, then, that this has been done before. Not done in a lab of course, but with a female Neanderthal and a male Homo sapiens--the natural way.

So where are the descendants of those ancient natural hybrids? They are us! Anyone of European or Asian decent has one to four percent Neanderthal DNA. The 50/50 hybrids are long gone, a failed experiment. God decided long ago that Neanderthals would die out as a species and we, modern humans, would remain.

I am not saying there isn't some good to come from synthetic DNA. But, let's hope Church's idea about recreating Neanderthals in a lab never sees reality. This kind of science (unethical) can only exist in a world filled with hardened hearts and no perspective of mankind's greater good.

See George Church's Wiki Page and his book on Amazon.

Real Life Mysteries--Who Were the Ebu Gogo: Were They Possibly Hobbits?

"Their physical features were short, hefty, with long hair on the head and chest. And females' breasts were big and long. If they wanted to walk, they usually threw their long breasts over their shoulders." ~ The Nage, describing the Ebu Gogo

The Nage people of the island of Flores (Indonesia) tell tales of three-feet tall people who were both human and ape-like and shared the island with them. These little people were annoying and even violent, so, by sometime in the 1600s (some reports say earlier, some later), the Nage decided to save the island from this menace and they eradicated the Ebu Gogo.

You may say the stories about the Ebu Gogo are "crazy" or "just myth," but in 2003 archeologists, continuing their consistent digging in a cave on Flores, found artifacts, evidence of cooking, hunting tools, remains of miniature elephants and other fauna from the ancient island, and an almost-complete skeleton of a 3-foot tall female that has the perfect blend of chimp and human features. Hmmmm....

The first recorded storytelling about the Ebu Gogo was by Dutch sailors who visited the island, and then later when Captain Cook, on his first voyage in 1770, sat around the campfire to hear the Nage tell the Ebu Gogo stories again.

The Ebu Gogo lived in caves and wore clothes. Their features were a perfect blend of human and ape, the Nage say.

They spoke a language the Nage did not understand, but the little people walked around (upright) mumbling the language to themselves. When an islander spoke a word to them, they would parrot it well.

They cooked their food, but they also ate it raw, and they definitely ate a lot because Ebu Gogo means "grandmother who eats everything." And by everything, the Nage mean EVERYTHING.

In the end, the little people were damaging the Nage's property, stealing food, and eventually this led to stealing the islanders' children.

But the Nage still tried to make things harmonious by asking selected Ebu Gogo to dinner (if someone steals your coat, give him your other one too). Unfortunately, the guests could not behave and began acting like monkeys. Those rude little Ebu Gogos grabbed any food they could find and ate as fast as they could (think Helen Keller in her early days). They also grabbed a human baby and tried to eat it.

This was the last straw. And soon thereafter, the villagers gave the Ebu Gogo a "gift" of oil-soaked clothing. The little people put on the clothes in the caves where they were living. As soon as they were dressed, the Nage set the caves on fire.

Pretty gruesome, huh?

And you could comfort yourself by saying "It's only a myth," except for the fact that they've now found Ebu-Gogo-like remains in a cave on Flores. And these ancient remains are definitely fitting the description of the Nage' little people, although researchers are calling the near-complete skeleton a "Hobbit" (Homo floresiensis) instead of Ebu Gogo. (There are also some other Hobbit skeletal body parts in the cave.)

Normal human skeleton on the right, "Hobbit" skull found 
on the Isle of Flores, on the left. Photo from

Some researchers have said that the Hobbit people were a group of islanders with an iodine deficiency. A severe iodine deficiency does stunt growth and a whole group of people living together with this malady would produce the tiny, mumbling, cretins that we find in the Nage stories.

However, an iodine deficiency does not give you chimp-like wrist bones like the Hobbit remains, and the most recent research convinced researchers William Jungers and Karen Baab to declare Homo floresiensis a separate species from Homo sapiens, but still human.

Another problem for paleoanthropologists is assuming the Hobbits were the mythological Ebu Gogo. They say the Hobbits lived on the island, at the latest, around 12,000 years ago. The Nage stories have the Ebu Gogo thriving on the island into modern times. Some stories have them living into the 20th Century because two escaped the cave fires and created new families in the mountain forests.

As a Christian, I am not trying to make an evolutionary point here,  (if you are an evolutionist there are plenty of theories with which to toy). All I am saying is, "huh." There is a mystery here.

Although I don't believe everything this video of a Nova episode says, it gives good info on the Hobbit people and the Ebu Gogo:

The Ebu Gogo have a Wiki Page, and so do the Hobbits (Homo floresiensis);  You'll enjoy this video, too, where the Nage tell stories of the little people to a researcher, Ebu Gogo.