Google’s Calico Team Partners With AncestryDNA To Analyze Genetics and Longevity

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Google and Ancestry.com will reportedly f0rm a partnership to explore the relationship between genetics and longevity. The research initiative will be pioneered by Calico, a Google division launched in 2013 by renowned researcher and entrepreneur Arthur Levinson, Chairman of Genentech, director of Hoffmann-La Roche, and Chairman of Apple. Levinson will work alongside a team of hand-picked genetics researchers, molecular biologists, and physicians from the upper echelons of medical research and development. Though it works independently of the fabled X-Lab division, Calico is considered one of Google’s moon shot projects, as it works to broaden the understanding of human longevity and develop interventions that will push the human lifespan significantly forward.

In its new partnership with AncestryDNA, Google will gain access to millions of public family trees and correlating genetic samples. Google will use the data to analyze genetics data from families with unusually long lifespans, looking for commonalities that it might be able to commercialize through future therapeutics. Calico’s Chief Science Officer David Botstein explains “Our common experience suggests that there may be hereditary factors underlying longevity, but finding the genes responsible using standard techniques has proven elusive. This is an extraordinary opportunity to address a fundamental unanswered question in longevity research using high quality human pedigrees.”

Google has a long track record of funding and indirectly monetizing genetics research. The company was an early investor in consumer-genetics startup 23andMe, and has since launched a business unit that offers cloud-hosted data storage to genetics researchers that were looking for an easier way of storing and sharing the massive amounts of data involved in large scale genetics research.

Initially, 23andMe would seem like an ideal partner for Google in its newest venture. The company has amassed one of the largest genetics databases in existence, and is actively seeking research partners to bolster its ailing business model. With significant investments in 23andMe, it would have been in Google’s interest to partner with them, rather than AncestryDNA. However, in this case, AncestryDNA has both the genetics data and the family history that Google needs. Pairing those two sources of information will provide Google a single database from which they can isolate families with unusually long lifespans, and then analyze those genetic samples.

Like all Google moon shot projects, the Calico initiative is a long-term project focused on gradually building a knowledgebase, in this case around longevity, that can one day be commercialized with a revolutionary new treatment or product.


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