Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book Review: Homo Evolutus

Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans are venture capitalists and authors with an interest in life sciences. Gullans is a former professor at Harvard Medical school. Their book, or I should say micro-book, Homo Evolutus, seems to be based on a TED talk they gave. The subject is their thesis that the human race is about to "speciate," or give rise to a new species of Homo, thanks to the radical advances being made in biotechnology and genomics.

Roughly the first half of the book is devoted to background material on the evolutionary history of the various human species (19 so-far known, by their count) and their biological underpinnings. The rest is a quick catalog of some of the extraordinary goings on at the interface of biology and technology, many of which were unfamiliar to me. A couple of examples:

Not only did the two Chinese teams take mouse skin cells, and de-differentiate them back into pluripotent stem cells… They then took these stem cells and allowed them to re-grow, differentiate, and gave birth to live mice. Which then could reproduce normally.

Enriquez, Juan. Homo Evolutis (Kindle Single) (TED Books) (Kindle Locations 1372-1375). TED Books. Kindle Edition.

About a lab where synthetic organs are being grown using such tools as inkjet printers loaded with stem cells:

On a bench top, a freshly printed mouse heart beats away in a box. (Take that Edgar Allan Poe.)

Enriquez, Juan. Homo Evolutis (Kindle Single) (TED Books) (Kindle Locations 946-948). TED Books. Kindle Edition.

There is lots of similar stuff, including the cutsie asides, which I usually found slightly more amusing than annoying.

Homo Evolutus is (so-far) available only as a Kindle Single, and it's a very slender book indeed, only 58 pages, and that length is a great exaggeration due to it's idiosyncratically chatty format. It's more like a long magazine article. It's an hour or two of reading, and it's cheap, $2.99, Amazon only. I found it often interesting, and read about a number of things I had never heard of before. There are lots of endnotes and references for those who would like to check their work.