Merriam-Webster defines the verb “google” as “search for information about (someone or something) on the Internet using the search engine Google.” The search giant has topped itself with its latest google: a partnership with advocacy group Autism Speaks, searching for the genetic code to autism.
Google will index and host genetic data for 10,000 people at various points on the autism spectrum, along with the genes of their family members, as researchers sift and sort through the code for patterns. Says Autism Speaks chief science officer Rob Ring (in an interview with Wired), “We believe that the clues to understanding autism lie in that genome.”
The company’s advanced search capabilities will be key to Ring’s quest: The project will make use of Google Genomics, a tool launched earlier this year on Google Cloud that makes use of the company’s legendary web-crawling algorithm. “We’d like to leverage the same kind of technology and approach to searching the Internet every day to search into the genome for these missing answers,” Ring says.
The relative cheapness and ease of genetic sequencing today versus the early days of genetic research have certainly been a boon to researchers, but it has also created an increasingly unmanageable volume of data. A single human genetic sequence typically runs to around 100 gigabytes, and when you’re trying to tackle numbers of sequences in the tens of thousands, server space becomes an issue. Google’s involvement will give researchers a place to organize their data collectively when they’d ordinarily have to ship hard drives back and forth—yet another example of the cloud saving the world.