Google is Hunting for an Autism Gene

By Kate Knibbs on at

Google is on a mission to pinpoint the genetic causes of autism. The company is using its cloud-based genome database, Google Genomics, to sequence genomes from 10,000 people on the autism spectrum, along with their family members. The plan is to host and index the genomes so that researchers can look for the genetic origins of the developmental disorder.

Wired interviewed people involved with the project:

David Glazer, director of engineering for Google Genomics and formerly director of engineering for Google Plus, says that instead of searching for keywords, researchers can search for particular regions and sequences along genomes and find sections with common variations. And because a single human genome can run to 100 gigabytes, having the data in a central location makes remote collaboration among researchers easier. "You're a lot more efficient than shipping around station wagons full of hard drives," Glazer says.

This project is a partnership with Autism Speaks, helping the non-profit organise the genetic information it has catalogued for years.

Google has a unique capability here to use its immense cloud storage powers for good: even though the cost of sequencing DNA has gone down, finding ways to share the terabytes of data associated with the information has been a hurdle for researchers.

This is just one of many projects Google is working on with health. Google's co-founder Larry Page talked about how data-mining health records could save lives last summer, and the company is testing how to connect doctors and patients online. This is the first one to fully take advantage of the still-new Google Genomics project, but it is likely Google will apply the same DNA sequencing and search effort to other disorders and health issues, especially if this effort produces results. [Wired]

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