Translating is a great opportunity for creativity. Every language holds ambiguities and vague phrases that are impossible in another language, so choices must be made. In a case with Harvard Genetics professor George Church, his interview about Neanderthal DNA for German magazine Der Spiegel inspired translated headlines such as “Wanted: ‘Adventurous woman to give birth to Neanderthal man — Harvard professor seeks mother for cloned cave baby.” Heavy news, which made a huge splash around the world, but is it true?
Church denies he was at all able to clone a Neanderthal, let alone that he wanted to, least of all that he was seeking a woman to give birth. The original translated article noted that Neanderthals, which have been extinct for 33,000 years, have left bits of their genetic code in bones, and that Church claims there is enough to reconstruct their DNA.
The plan, then, would be to put the DNA into stem cells and then inject the stem cells into a human embryo early on. The stem cells would bring the embryo down the Neanderthal track, and it would then be implanted in a surrogate mother.
“The real story here is how these stories have percolated and changed in different ways,” says Church. “I’m sure we’ll get it sorted out eventually.”
He says his phone has been ringing off the hook as reporters from around the world wanted the scoop on this Neanderthal clone. The misinterpreted translation alleged that he said the cloning might theoretically be possible someday, and that he was even looking for a woman to do so.
“I’m certainly not advocating it,” Church said. “I’m saying, if it is technically possible someday, we need to start talking about it today.”
His own line of study isn’t even in Neanderthal DNA. Church, who helped in the inception of the genome project, regards using genetics, DNA, and genome sequencing for medical purpose, to develop synthetic fuels, and so forth.