A letter to the Editor Spiegel on line in response to : Interview with George Church: Can Neanderthals Be Brought Back from the Dead?
In a SPIEGEL interview, synthetic biology expert George Church of Harvard University explains how DNA will become the building material of the future -- one that can help create virus-resistant human beings and possibly bring back lost species like the Neanderthal.
He told Der Spiegel, the German magazine: “I have already managed to attract enough DNA from fossil bones to reconstruct the DNA of the human species largely extinct. Now I need an adventurous female human.”
I would argue do that but first agree if Neanderthals belong within species of Homo sapiens, if so it would be absolutely unmerited? Considering what have we done with the Aborigines of Australia. Paleoanthropologists cannot agree on this single point if 'Are Neanderthals Human?' This is a huge debate, bringing them from death will be a momentous blunder, playing Jurassic Park kind of sleight of hand with Dinosaurs is one thing making alive an extinct species is playing God with the nature.
Let's look at what we cultured humans did to our close cousins Aborigines. White supremacists and European anatomists separated people into races. They often ranked Europeans as the purest human race, considering the others scarcely superior than apes. To justify this strange view of humanity, anatomists searched for straightforward differences between the skeletons of dissimilar races, the size of skulls, the slopes of brows, the width of noses. In a kind of unjust way we try to interpret sciences that may satisfy the ingrained racist supremacist view. We still debate if Aborigines are a common specie with homo-sapiens. On Wikipedia Aborigines are referred as : "There is no clear or accepted racial origin of the indigenous people of Australia. Although they migrated to Australia through Southeast Asia they are not related to any known Asian population. Nor are they related to the nearby peoples of Melanesia or Polynesia. In view of the very long time they have been in Australia, almost entirely isolated from other human populations, it is unlikely that they will be found to be closely related to any identifiable racial group."
The dominant features of Aborigines are highlighted by the supremacist are :
- prominent brow ridge
- short bowed shoulder blades
- weak chin
- large nose
And compared to obvious similarities to Neanderthal:
- prominent brow ridge
- short bowed shoulder blades
- weak chin
- large nose.
Though, the fact is that the 'Aborigines' came to Australia as fully evolved homo sapiens approximately 40,000 years ago, while the Neanderthal disappeared in Asia 50,000 years ago. Australian Aborigines have a prominent brow ridge, a fact that helped lead Thomas Huxley to argue that Neanderthals were indeed human. No offense to the Neanderthal, but any other specie would have had the know-how to design the rafts necessary to travel in the Asian pacific to Australia.
On this confusion of 'forehead' Schaafhausen tried find a place for the Neanderthal Man. He proved that the heavy brow didn't disqualify it as a human. He relied on stories of ancient European savagery. "Even of the Germans," Schaafhausen wrote in his 1857 report on the Neander Valley bones, "Caesar remarks that the Roman soldiers were unable to withstand their aspect and the flashing of their eyes, and that a sudden panic seized his army." Schaafhausen searched historical records for other clues of Europe's monstrous past. "The Irish were voracious cannibals, and considered it praiseworthy to eat the bodies of their parents," he wrote. In the 1200s, ancient tribes in Scandinavia still lived in the mountains and forests, wearing animal skins, "uttering sounds more like the cries of wild beasts than human speech." In such a savage place, the heavy-browed Neanderthal would have fit right in.
White supremacists make a DNA based case they refer to a file on the web with mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) comparison between Modern Humans, Modern Aborigines and Neanderthal. The Authors omitted the "common" DNA that we share with other animals, trees, etc.. (we are like 98% similar in DNA to apes). The Neanderthal DNA is fragmented as expected, but the available parts match the Australian DNA much more closely than modern human DNA. I looked at only the markers where there was an available marker for all three samples: 129, 189, 209, 223, 256, 258, 299 (possibly more after)
Modern Human: G, T, T, C, C, A, A
Modern Australian Aborigine: A, C, C, T, T, C, G
30,000 yr Neanderthal: A, C, C, T, A, G, G
In other words they argue that, 'in this sample Australian Aborigine DNA is a 0% match with modern human DNA, but it is a 71% match with Neanderthal DNA. Only 256 and 258 were mismatches, and yet the Aborigine still did not match the modern human DNA. Apparently the Aborigines had some limited mixing with Polynesian people, so that could account for the differences (i.e. the Aborigines are Neanderthal hybrids).'
However, an international team of researchers published their findings in the journal 'Science' they have established that the ancestors of Aboriginal Australians travelled through East Asia before reaching Australia some 50,000 years ago. Others, including East Asians, spread out of Africa before splitting - one lineage crossing the Bering Strait to establish in North America. Dr Francois Balloux of Imperial College London says that ''they could walk almost the entire way because the sea level was much lower.” A recent 'lock of hair' has helped scientists to piece together the genome of Australian Aborigines and rewrite the history of human dispersal around the world. DNA from the hair demonstrates that indigenous Aboriginal Australians were the first to separate from other modern humans, around 70,000 years ago. This challenges current theories of a single phase of dispersal from Africa.
Discovering the history of human migration with DNA has been made possible by improvements in the techniques used to study the genome. Traditionally, genetic divergence dates were arrived at by combining the number of unique mutations in the DNA with an assumed rate of acquiring those mutations. Now, computationally powerful models can simulate lots of different scenarios for migration timings and directions, and researchers can compare and choose the situation that most closely matches what is seen in the genome. By comparing the Aboriginal genome with the DNA of African, European and Han Chinese individuals it was possible to highlight the later interbreeding after initial colonisation. Comparison with Eurasian populations show that the Australian Aborigines have a similar percentage of Neanderthal genes within their DNA as their Eurasian counterparts, suggesting that any interbreeding occurred before the Aborigines embarked on their colonising journey.
Carl Zimmer who writes about evolution in the New York Times, a number of magazines, and is the author of award-winning blog, 'The Loom' recently wrote a piece 'Are Neanderthals Human?' He refers to studies of Svante Pääbo, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, and his colleagues have uncovered an entirely new source of evidence about the nature of Neanderthals: their DNA. Starting with those fossils from the Neander Valley, they extracted bits of genetic material that had survived tens of thousands of years. Eventually, they were able to assemble the fragments into the entire Neanderthal genome. Pääbo and his colleagues estimate that Neanderthals and humans share a common ancestor that lived 800,000 years ago. It's possible that the ancestors of Neanderthals expanded out of Africa then, while our own ancestors stayed behind.
Carl Zimmer highlights Biologist Ernst Mayr theory that came to be known as the Biological Species Concept in the 1940s namely, a species is made up of members of populations that actually or potentially interbreed in nature. ''Once the Neanderthal lineage left Africa 800,000 years ago, did humans and Neanderthals have enough time to become unable to interbreed? Europeans and Asians carry with them a small portion of DNA inherited from Neanderthals—while Africans do not. The best explanation for our mixed genomes is that after humans expanded out of Africa, they encountered Neanderthals and interbred.
The tiny amount of Neanderthal DNA has been interpreted by some scientists as evidence that Neanderthals rarely mated with humans—perhaps just once, in fact. But as scientists sequence more genomes from more human populations, they're exploring the possibility that our ancestors mated with Neanderthals several different times. The presence of DNA from Neanderthals in human genomes is compelling evidence that humans and Neanderthals could mate and produce fertile offspring. If we stick to the Biological Species Concept, then we are a single species, as Schaafhausen originally thought. But some scientists reject this argument. They think that Mayr's Biological Species Concept has worn out its usefulness.''
Carl Zimmer argues that ''perhaps humans and Neanderthals were the same: They only interbred rarely, and when they did, the hybrid children couldn't fuse the two kinds of humans together. That may be why human and Neanderthal fossils remained so different. William King would probably have been horrified at the notion of human beings having sex with Neanderthal "brutes." But despite this intermingling, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens endured—at least until the Neanderthals became extinct, and we survived.''