At a former paper-printing factory in Hong Kong, a 20-year-old wunderkind named Zhao Bowen has embarked on a challenging and potentially controversial quest: uncovering the genetics of intelligence.
Mr. Zhao is a high-school dropout who has been described as China’s Bill Gates. He oversees the cognitive genomics lab at BGI, a private company that is partly funded by the Chinese government.
At the Hong Kong facility, more than 100 powerful gene-sequencing machines are deciphering about 2,200 DNA samples, reading off their 3.2 billion chemical base pairs one letter at a time. These are no ordinary DNA samples. Most come from some of America’s brightest people–extreme outliers in the intelligence sweepstakes.
The majority of the DNA samples come from people with IQs of 160 or higher. By comparison, average IQ in any population is set at 100. The average Nobel laureate registers at around 145. Only one in every 30,000 people is as smart as most of the participants in the Hong Kong project–and finding them was a quest of its own.