With January marking a time of looking to the future, it seems appropriate to share ideas from Juan Enriquez, who is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on the profound changes that genomics and other life sciences will bring about in business, technology, politics and society.

Enriquez delivered keynote remarks kicking off the second International Genomics Symposium, which was hosted as part of the 2016 Angus Convention held in November in Indianapolis, Ind. The symposium was sponsored by Neogen GeneSeek Operations. 

Introduced as a “thought leader” and “someone who lives in the future,” Enriquez began his remarks by sharing a series of examples — from Uber to three-D printers — that have proven to be industry game changers.

Regarding Uber, he noted that in less than a decade the company has proven to be a formidable competition to traditional taxis, and today Uber is worth $68 billion. For perspective, that equates to the entire economy of Uruguay and is greater than the value of 70% of Fortune 500 companies. Uber is now more valuable than Ford, GM and Honda combined.

“These are big disruptions,” said Enriquez.

Moreover, he pointed out that urbanites are realizing if they travel fewer than 9,500 miles annually, it’s cheaper to just take Uber rather than owning a car. Enriquez joked, “When fewer people buy cars, they have more money to eat out and have steak.”

Jesting aside, he pointed to the future when Uber may team with autonomous cars, which could drive costs down even more because the expense to pay a driver has been removed. Enriquez hypothesized that this could mean even fewer cars are purchased, and if more cars go away, streets change, malls change, shipping changes, steel production changes, infrastructure changes, cement production goes down. He pointed to the fact that autonomous cars could result in fewer accidents and joked, “even lawyers and stoplights could go away.”

“These are big systemic changes,” he noted, and added that, in comparison to many other countries around the world — notably Europe, instead of encouraging innovation there tends to be a time warp to continue using methods and technologies of past generations.

“It’s neat to live in the U.S., where change is embraced,” he said.

He also commented, “Waves of technology keep washing over countries, businesses and industries and causing change … and you’ve got to be ready. Brands that adapt survive and thrive.”

Shifting to genetics and the future, Enriquez says the focus among scientists is life code. He explained that life code is what every life form on the planet is made from — “from clover and a piece of hay to sheep and politicians.”

He noted that adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine — ATGC — are the four nucleotides found in all DNA.

“All life is coded in the same letters,” said Enriquez. “That makes life forms programmable. Change a couple letters and an orange becomes a tangerine, or a grapefruit or a lemon.”

To this Enriquez also said, “That means all life is code. That is important, because you can read code, copy code, edit code. … That means we are increasingly in charge of evolution.”

The future of this technology will require moral and ethical considerations, he admitted. “It gives you choices; some you want; some you may not.”

He closed saying, “I don’t know the right road [for organizations] to take, but I do know things are going to change.” 

Read more of Enriquez’s thoughts in the book he co-authored titled Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on Earth, which is available via Amazon.

Watch next week’s Being Bullish column for more about gene editing technology and it’s applications in the industry.