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Is Creating New Life — Maybe Even A Neanderthal — Possible?

Creating new life and bringing back old. Maybe even Neanderthal man.

Children watch a giant mammoth and a calf model at the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany. (AP)

Children watch a giant mammoth and a calf model at the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany. (AP)

Synthetic biology can sound kind of bland.  Like polyester pants.  Nylon stockings.  Synthetic – no big deal.

But think about it.  Synthetic biology.  Biology fully, deeply, maybe radically remade by man.  It’s well underway.

Re-engineering biology to make food, fuel, medicine.  Seeds that grow into houses.  Stronger, smarter humans.  Maybe even bring back the dead.  The extinct

My guest today has written about finding an “extremely adventurous” woman to give birth to a Neanderthal.  And he’s not kidding.

This hour, On Point:  synthetic biology creating new and very old life.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, and professor of health sciences and technology at Harvard and MIT. Co-author of “Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves.” (@geochurch)

Arthur Caplan, head of the division of bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City. (@arthurcaplan)

Jay Keasling, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UC Berkeley. Director of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center. (@jaykeasling)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Boston Herald “The headline flying across the Internet yesterday seemed too outlandish to be true: ‘Wanted: “Adventurous woman” to give birth to Neanderthal man — Harvard professor seeks mother for cloned cave baby,’ Britain’s Daily Mail exulted. And Harvard University geneticist George M. Church, the scientist at the center of the viral vortex, says it was: Way too outlandish, and entirely untrue.”

ABC News “Caplan said there’s also insufficient knowledge about whether Neanderthals would be too aggressive to flourish in society or whether they would die of an extreme unforeseen allergy. He compared the latter to the way Europeans accidentally killed the Native Americans by giving them small pox.”

Science News “Place an order with Ginkgo BioWorks and its researchers will make an organism to do whatever you want. Need to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere? They can engineer the insides of a bacterium to do just that. Want clean, biologically based fuels to replace petroleum taken from the ground? Company scientists will design a microbe to poop those out.”

Excerpt from “Regenesis”

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