Enriquez is managing director of Excel Venture Management, of Boston, and author with Steve Gullans of “Homo Evolutis,” which suggests that the human species is continuing to evolve, now driven by science instead of Darwinian evolution.
Q. You theorize that science will soon allow humans to augment themselves enough that we will become a new species, which you’ve dubbed Homo Evolutis.
‘The difference between a human being and a Neanderthal turns out to be 20-something genes. . . . With today’s tech-nology, could we change 20-something genes in humans? . . . We’re darn close.’
A. The difference between a human being and a Neanderthal turns out to be 20-something genes. Then the question becomes, with today’s technology, could we change 20-something genes in humans? The answer is, we’re darn close.
Q. And you suggest that, once we use gene therapies to cure diseases, we will turn toward augmenting ourselves, perhaps changing events like the Olympics forever.
A. We’ve always thought if only you work hard enough you can be president of the United States or an Olympian. What if it turns out that — at least for the Olympics — that’s not the case? You do have to work really, really hard, but you also have to have a certain set of genes. How do we want to deal with that knowledge?
Q. Do you think people are emotionally and ethically ready for this kind of change?
A. When you think of the reaction people had to the first test-tube baby — it was massive front-page pictures, [and stories asking] “Is this the end of humanity?” Of course, [the baby, Louise Brown] grew up to be a perfectly normal nurse, and today IVF is considered perfectly normal. There will be people who will say we absolutely will not allow this, there will be people who will say we’ll allow almost all of it, and there will be people who will say we’ll allow this but not that. I think that’s why you’re going to get [people diverging into different species]. Some people will say hell no and some people will say let’s do it.
Q. You’re a venture capitalist and former Harvard Business School professor. How do these big ideas fit with that background?
A. What I do in my day job is I try to figure out what technologies are going to fundamentally change life sciences and health care in the next five to eight years. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that I wouldn’t touch as an investor, but that could fundamentally change the world, not in five to eight years, but in 20 or 50 or 100 years.
Q. You compare what’s going on now with biology to what’s happened over the last 30 years with computers.
A. We went from a world that was 6 percent digital in 1986 to a world that’s over 99 percent digital today. I think what’s happening today is we’re beginning to be able to read, copy, and rewrite life code. As we do that, I think every business will change as much or more than it did with digital code.
Q. And a lot of this work is going on in Boston?
A. We in Boston are the absolute center of this thing. We’re on the one hand inventing it and on the other hand guiding it.
Q. How do you think the average person should respond to all this change?
A. What I’d love the average person to do is understand why this stuff matters, how much it changes, how interesting the questions are. It’d be kind of awful if you were living in the Renaissance and you didn’t realize how cool that was and what a difference da Vinci and Michelangelo and the Medicis and these palaces [were going to make to the world]. This is the greatest adventure humanity’s ever been on. Turn off the TV and watch what’s going on around you. Pay attention. And go build something.