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Google sticks its servers behind genomics alliance

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Google is throwing its considerable weight, and cloud servers, behind a global genomics alliance with the aim of advancing medical research for future generations.

The Chocolate Factory announced today that it is joining the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health, which it describes as an “international effort to develop harmonised approaches to enable responsible, secure, and effective sharing of genomic and clinical information in the cloud with the research and healthcare communities”.

According to a description of its activities, the alliance comprises more than 125 organisations in over 40 countries including “leading funders of research, biomedical research organisations, healthcare providers and disease advocacy organisations”.

Writing on the Google Research blog, product manager Jonathan Bingham explained the following:

Generating research data is easier than ever before, but interpreting and analysing it is still hard, and getting harder as the volume increases. This is especially true of genomics. Sequencing the whole genome of a single person produces more than 100 gigabytes of raw data, and a million genomes will add up to more than 100 petabytes. In 2003, the Human Genome Project completed after 15 years and $3 billion. Today, it takes closer to one day and $1,000 to sequence a human genome.

As part of its efforts, Bingham said Google is introducing a web-based API designed to import, process, store and search genomic data “at scale”, as well as a set of open source sample projects built around the API, on Google’s cloud infrastructure.

Google has also prepared a preview implementation of the API built on the same infrastructure.

Bingham continued:

Imagine the impact if researchers everywhere had larger sample sizes to distinguish between people who become sick and those who remain healthy, between patients who respond to treatment and those whose condition worsens, between pathogens that cause outbreaks and those that are harmless. Imagine if they could test biological hypotheses in seconds instead of days, without owning a supercomputer.

Google isn't the only tech player getting into this field. Sony recently announced a JV, P5, which will build a "genome information platform". ®

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