Technology Review – The ability to engineer life is going to spark a revolution that will dwarf the industrial and digital revolutions, says Juan Enriquez, a writer, investor, and managing director of Excel Venture Management.
Because we can engineer our environment and ourselves, humanity is moving beyond the constraints of Darwinian evolution. The result, he says, may be an entirely new species.
Enriquez is the author of the global bestseller As the Future Catches You: How Genomics and Other Forces Are Changing Your Life, Work, Health & Wealth. His most recent publication is an eBook, Homo Evolutis: A Short Tour of Our New Species.
People think this technology will just change pharma or biotech, but it’s much bigger than that. For example, it’s already changing the chemical industry. Forty percent of Dupont’s earnings today come from the life sciences. It’s going to change everything; it will change countries, who’s rich and who’s poor. It’s going to create new ethics.
Scientists have recently been able to compare the genomes of Neandertals and modern humans, which reveals just a .004 percent difference. Most of those changes lie in genes involved in sperm, testes, smell, and skin.
Engineering microbes alone might speciate us. When you apply sequencing technology to the microbes inhabiting the human body, it turns out to be fascinating. All of us are symbionts; we have 1,000 times more microbial cells in our bodies than human cells. You couldn’t possible digest or live without the microbial cells inside your stomach. Some people have microbes that are better at absorbing calories. Diabetics have a slightly sweeter skin, which changes the microbial fauna and makes it harder for them to cauterize wounds.
In the industrial revolution, it took a lifetime to build enough industry to double the wealth of a country. In the knowledge revolution, you can build billion-dollar companies with 20 people very quickly. The implication is that you can double the wealth of a country very quickly. In Korea in 1975, people had one-fifth of the income of Mexicans, and today they have five times more. Even the poorest places can generate wealth quickly. You see this in Bangalore, China. On the flip side, you can also become irrelevant very quickly.