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Read an extract from The Seventh Son by Sebastian Faulks

“I have a proposition.” Parn leant forward and put his hand on Malik Wood’s knee.

“Oh yes?”

Parn sat back again. ‘Did you know I fund a palaeoanthropology research programme? It’s attached to the University of London. They do top genetic work. Looking at old bones. Sequencing the genome of Homo vannesiensis. That kind of thing. I know people there. In the labs. I have access.”

“I bet.”

“You know all that work they did in Leipzig a few years back. The Max Planck people. Putting together genomes from scraps of forty-thousand-year-old bone. Brilliant stuff. But those PCR machines they used, they’re pretty old now. We have better kit.”

“And?”

Lukas Parn’s voice had lost all trace of the Outback. “I’m interested in hybrids. What they can tell us about ourselves. How we got to be the way we are. The inexplicable leap. The ‘saltation’, as you call it.”

“My God. You’re not a creationist, are you? You’re not going to try to prove that Homo sapiens was put together all in one go by God?”

“No.” Parn laughed. “No, I’m not a creationist. But I’m an exceptionalist. I believe that the superiority of Homo sapiens hasn’t yet been explained.”

“You’re saying Darwin was wrong?”

“Sure. He was wrong about a lot of things. Women. Genetics.”

“But by the standards of what was known at the time, he—”

“Exactly. ‘The time’ was 1850-something. Getting on for two hundred years ago. Anyway, it’s not about a Victorian with a beard. It’s about genetics, a word unknown to Darwin.”

“How am I involved in this?”

“Your lab. Your touch.”

Dr Wood drank some wine. “I’ll need to know more.”

“You will. In due course. But can I take it that you would be interested in having your salary increased. And a one-off bonus of, let’s say, five times salary on successful completion?”

“It depends on what I need to do.”

“Something well within your capabilities. I want you to make a substitution in the course of our new IVF research partnership with the NHS.”

“A substitution?”

“A simple switch. One guy’s sperm for another. Before it hits the egg.”

“That’s ethically—”

“Extremely important is what it is,” said Parn. “From a scientific point of view. We’re looking at a human hybrid.”

Extract taken from The Seventh Son by Sebastian Faulks (Hutchinson Heinemann, out now), the latest pick for the New Scientist Book Club. Sign up and read along with us here

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