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Will Google’s Next Alphabetical Moonshot Involve Genetic Engineering?

Will Google’s Next Alphabetical Moonshot Involve Genetic Engineering?
[Photo: Flickr user tanakawho]

Alphabet, Google’s new parent company, just gave a better idea of what its next moonshot project might be. The Information reported Wednesday that Google exec Linus Upson was interested in genetically engineering mosquitos to fight disease. According to Re/code, Upson and Larry Page, now Alphabet’s chief executive, have spoken to George Church, a prominent geneticist and Harvard professor, about his work with gene editing.

Church said that Upson and Page were most interested in the use of genetically modified mosquitos to fight ailments like dengue fever and malaria. The World Health Organization states that 3.2 billion people around the globe could fall prey to malaria; dengue fever afflicts about 390 million people each year.

This isn’t uncharted territory: As Church pointed out, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has already invested in the area. “We’re not anticipating it will be a commercial success,” he told Re/code. “It might be easier to go the philanthropic route through the Gates Foundation or Google.” The Life Sciences wing of Google X–now its own company under Alphabet–has previously dipped into disease detection and prevention: In 2014, Google announced plans to get into cancer research that employs nanoparticles.

Church’s biotech startup, Editas, just raised $120 million for its genome editing product efforts. Google Ventures was a minority investor in the funding round.

[via Re/code]