Google X's ambitious moonshot projects have included fantastical visions of space elevators and Back to the Future-style hoverboards. But its latest mission might be the stealthy research lab's most important work yet: creating a detailed picture of a truly healthy human body.
Whereas Google X's Calico project is concerned with extending human life and reversing the onset of aging, a new project revealed today has a different set of goals. The Wall Street Journal reports that Baseline Study is a science project designed to "create what the company hopes will be the fullest picture of what a healthy human being should be."
The project will be led by Andrew Conrad, a molecular biologist who joined the company in March 2013, whose team will be charged with collecting genetic and molecular information from thousands of anonymous volunteers, with the hope of putting together a composite sketch of perfect human health. A "baseline" all our biologies should aspire to.
The project won't be restricted to specific diseases, and it will collect hundreds of different samples using a wide variety of new diagnostic tools. Then Google will use its massive computing power to find patterns, or "biomarkers," buried in the information. The hope is that these biomarkers can be used by medical researchers to detect any disease a lot earlier.
The study may, for instance, reveal a biomarker that helps some people break down fatty foods efficiently, helping them live a long time without high cholesterol and heart disease. Others may lack this trait and succumb to early heart attacks. Once Baseline has identified the biomarker, researchers could check if other people lack it and help them modify their behavior or develop a new treatment to help them break down fatty foods better, Dr. Conrad said.
Wading into the mysterious universe of the human body on a genetic and molecular level is hardly a new undertaking. For instance, the Human Genome Project, which began in 1990 and completed sequencing the human genome in 2003, was a triumph of modern science and is said to have been an $800 billion boon to the global economy. Yet Google is one of the few entities on Earth with the computing muscle and resources to analyze the delicate and little-understood interplay between the body's enzymes and proteins, and, more importantly, make sense of all that data to identify diseases far in advance.
Learn more about the project at the Wall Street Journal.