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Our Expert Voices conversation on de-extinction.

As an anthropologist who studies extinct populations of human relatives, when I hear de-extinction, I think of Neanderthals.

Neanderthals became extinct around 30,000 years ago. A few scientists have talked about using technology to make a Neanderthal child – at one point, the geneticist George Church joked that he just needed "an adventurous female human" to make a go of it.

I'm not in favor of making Neanderthal babies. But babies are just the final step of a research process where every other step may prove tremendously valuable. Scientists are already studying the effects of Neanderthal genes within human tissues, and they have already engineered mice with Neanderthal genes. Soon, there will be Neanderthal cell lines, tissues and organs.

What we can learn: Throughout the history of human genetics, we have relied on natural experiments — the differences that evolution has built into human populations—to learn about how our genes work. The evolution of Neanderthals took them down a different path than any living human population. Studying Neanderthal cells and tissues will help us to understand how human genes work.

Bottom line: De-extinction of Neanderthals — at least in the lab — may just give us new targets for drugs or other treatments to help humans today.

Other voices in the conversation:

Joseph Bennett, biologist, Carleton University: Keep animals from going extinct in the first place

Molly Hardesty-Moore, ecologist, University of California, Santa Barbara: Don't forget an extinct creature's ecology

Ben J. Novak, biologist, The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback: De-extinction is like any other conservation program

Alejandro Camacho, legal scholar, University of California, Irvine: Wildlife laws aren't ready for the return of extinct species

Go deeper

In photos: D.C. and U.S. states on alert for pre-inauguration violence

National Guard troops stand behind security fencing with the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building behind them, on Jan. 16. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Security has been stepped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S. as authorities brace for potential violence this weekend.

Driving the news: Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by some supporters of President Trump, the FBI has said there could be armed protests in D.C. and in all 50 state capitols in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Axios subject-matter experts brief you on the incoming administration's plans and team.

Rep. Lou Correa tests positive for COVID-19

Lou Correa. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) announced on Saturday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Correa is the latest Democratic lawmaker to share his positive test results after last week's deadly Capitol riot. Correa did not shelter in the designated safe zone with his congressional colleagues during the siege, per a spokesperson, instead staying outside to help Capitol Police.