The commercials featuring the Geico caveman made it seem as if a Neandertal (also neanderthal) could readily interact within a Homo sapiens society.... we may soon find out if that is true.
Recently, scientists at the Max Plank Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig Germany announced that they had completed the sequencing of the Neandertal genome.
Neandertals went extinct around 30,000 years ago - most likely because of an untimely interaction with the Cro-Magnon, our early ancestors. As was the case with most species on the planet, Neandertals did not fare well from their encounters with us. For some time scientists have believed that it may have been possible that Neandertals simply bred into the Cro-Magnon population and the two became genetically integrated. Based on the work of these German scientists, it is now clear that this did not happen. There is no significant evidence of a transfer of Neandertal genes into our species.
While nature intends for extinction to be permanent, our mastering of the molecular world has made it possible to bring some species back to life. Wolly mammoths, the dodo bird, and passenger pidgeons have all been nominated as species to be returned to the surface of the planet. We can now add a new species - the Neandertals.
Once the genomic analysis is complete, it may be possible to transplant Neandertal DNA into a chimpanzee, or even human, ovum. Since there is very little genetic difference between these three, there should be relatively few developmental probems. In fact, it is estimated that this could occur within the next few years at the nominal cost of around $30 million.
So what would we do with these Neandertals? We should decide that before we begin. Our initial instinct may be to put them in a zoo. But we should be careful about that decision. For although we may consider ourselves to be the evolutionary favorite - we may have just gotten lucky the first time. We now know that Neandertals possessed the gene for speech, FOXP2, and they had a larger brain size than ours, and had the at least the beginnings of culture. They may give us a serious run for our money this time around. Who knows, maybe this time they will let us integrate into their culture..... or maybe not.
By Michael Windelspecht | February 22nd 2009 06:06 AM | Print | E-mail
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