Google and the Human Genome Project
The Human Genome Project was first undertaken in 1990 and its goal was to understand the genetic makeup of the human species by mapping out the entire gene sequence. By some estimates, the HGP was completed in 2005.
Genome assembly consists of taking a large number of DNA sequences and putting them back together to create a representation of the original chromosomes from which the DNA originated. Thus, as can be seen, this represents a huge computational problem due to the massive amounts of permutations and combinations that are possible. In fact, even the HGP was only completed using a “haploid” reference human genome and efforts are underway to extend this to “diploid” human genomes. While the terms “haploid” and “diploid” may be genetic gobbledygook, the point is that there are many “ploidic” ways to sequence genomes thus adding even more numerical combinations.
So why would Google possible care about all this? Furthermore, where is the evidence that they do care about this at all?
Firstly, Google has repeatedly stated that their mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Secondly, Google’s co-founder, Sergei Brin took a minority stake in 23andMe, a company that aims to help you figure out your genetic code thereby sowing the first seeds of interest in the genetic game. Thirdly, as mentioned above, the HGP was only completed using haploid sequencing – Google’s powerful and speedy data warehousing algorithms could help perform such sequencing for the other “ploids” that exist.
Potentially Useful “Google Gene” Applications
1) Health: Google could send you alerts at particular points in your life if your genetic code shows that you’re predisposed to any sort of illness – this would serve as a constant reminder to get yourself checked by the appropriate specialist.
Furthermore, you could also alter your diet and exercise in your younger years itself in order to prevent any health risks that you may endure later on in life, simply because of your genes.
2) Social Networking: Google could even act as the perfect dating service by monitoring genetic codes for any emotional or physical predispositions. The “perfect match” could in fact become reality! As well, it could also alert couples planning to conceive if there is a high chance of genetic defects if the child were to be born.
Another application of Social networking in the realm of Health would be to help people find the right specialist – by showing how well rated a certain specialist is in treating a certain disease (obviously, this would be interfaced with Google Maps). As well, a person with a certain genetic defect could also find the right support network.
The “killer application” of Social Networking and health would be the ability to locate the right bone marrow, the right blood type, or the right liver at the right place at the right time for transplant cases in a matter of minutes.
Privacy & Security Issues
As with every other issue to do with biometrics and genetics, there is bound to be a hue and cry over privacy and security. After all, identity theft is a huge issue and stealing one’s SSN can be a life changing event – what does one do when one’s genetic code is stolen? This is where “Google Gene” cannot simply consist of entering a password to obtain one’s data. Two factor authentication must be used in order to gain access to such data. The 2nd factor could be a person’s fingerprint on a USB-enabled reader.
About ashwinviswanathI've worked at Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and at a SaaS company in the field of product marketing & product management. My platform experience has given me a great understanding of Windows Azure, force.com, Heroku, & Cloud Foundry. I'm an active member of the Silicon Valley Forum and the Silicon Valley Product Management Association.
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