Google and Autism Speaks Partner On Cloud-Based Genome Database


Autism Speaks, a US-based Autism research foundation, today announced that it has closed a deal with Google to house 10,000 fully sequenced genomes from children with autism, along with their parents and siblings. The data will be housed in publically accessible cloud storage with the hope that by making the massive dataset available to the public, it will inspire new academic research projects focused on autism.

It has long been believed that genetic research will unlock new understandings about what causes autism, however, because many universities and research organizations do not have access to genome sequencers, there are fewer research projects currently underway than what Autism Speaks representatives would like.

Even sharing existing genome data has been problematic for researchers because genetic datasets are so large, with a single fully sequenced genome filling 100 gigabytes of storage. When the University of Pennsylvania needed to analyze 800 genomes that were being studied at the University of Southern California, the school had to buy hundreds of hard drives and mail the genome data. With datasets this large, downloading files becomes a less than ideal scenario.

To address this problem, Autism Speaks has recruited participants willing to donate their genetic data to research. The foundation then had the genetic samples from these volunteers fully sequenced as part of its Autism Speaks Ten Thousand Genomes Project, or the AUT10K program. Now, with readily available data, Autism Speaks is moving to host the data in the cloud, along with analytics tool to help researchers make sense of it.

Google has agreed to host the data, and provide the necessary analytics tools for future research teams. By making the data publically available, and storing it in the cloud, Autism Speaks will have removed the need for researchers to conduct their own genetic sequencing, or for researchers to share genetic data amongst themselves, both of which had grown into a very real barrier to autism genetics research.

Thus far, genome research has helped clarify our understanding of autism by showing that autism is actually a complex condition, with far more variations to the disease than originally thought, making it more analogous to cancer than to most other mental conditions.

Autism Speaks did not disclose financial terms of the deal with Google, but is reporting that genetic data should be available for researchers by the end of the year.

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