Last year, Zhao Bowen was part of a team that cracked the genetic code of the cucumber. These days, he’s probing the genetic basis for human IQ.
Unburdened by social and legal constraints common in the West, China’s trailblazing scientists are also pushing the limits of ethics and principle as they create a new–and to many, worrisome–Wild West in the Far East.
In 2007, Chinese geneticists discovered vast differences in the genetic makeup of Africans, Asians and Caucasians. They will soon report a breakthrough showing why some people–such as Tibetans–can live effortlessly at high altitudes while others can’t.
Inside the 11-story facility, the vibe is pure Silicon Valley start-up: shorts, flip-flops, ankle bracelets, designer eyewear and a random tattoo. Zhao came to BGI on a summer internship last year to work on cucumbers. Now afull-time employee while continuing his studies, Zhao is turning his attention to a topic Western researchers have shied away from because of ethical worries: Zhao plans to study the genes of 1,000 of his best-performing classmates at a top high school in Beijing and compare them, he said, “with1,000 normal kids.”