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Google Invests In Genetic Indexing 74

Bibek Paudel point us to a BusinessWeek report on Google's interest in the cataloging and analyzing of people's DNA. Google has recently invested in DNA screening firms Navigenics and 23andMe, which test customers' DNA for characteristics such as ancestry and predisposition for certain diseases. The customers are then able to give the information to their doctors. This is not Google's first foray into the medical industry. "Google wants to plant an early stake in a potentially large new market around genetic data. 'We are interested in supporting companies and making investments in companies that [bolster] our mission statement, which is organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful,' Google spokesman Andrew Pederson says. 'We felt it was important to get involved now, at the early stage, to better understand the information generated by this fast-moving field.'"
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Google Invests In Genetic Indexing

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  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) * on Sunday April 20, 2008 @01:27PM (#23135292) Homepage
    All your base (pairs) belong to us!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      actually, searching for a blond girl with big boobs for a date will be easier.. google can become the ultimate dating service.
      • I think the capacity for good is there. Google has programmers that are very good at cause-effect relationships in web page data... applying that to human DNA would be relatively easy if they had a handful of very good data and medical history.

        It would be neat to see medical charts from 100 year olds compared to infants, that would get you 3 generations of good data. You could work out the genetics into the past and predict the future pretty well. Imagine dating by emotional and Genetic compatibility. T
    • by Tolkien ( 664315 )
      I've always been an avid fan of Google's. That said, though this is innocent enough, it seems like a step in a dangerous direction (think 1984).
      • by MrNaz ( 730548 ) *
        Innocent enough? Think 1984? Dude, your danger sensors are turned waaaay too low, they need recalibrating. You're the kind of guy who sits in a boat with water up to his knees and says to his crewmates:

        "OK, something's not right here. Did one of you fart?"
  • by way2trivial ( 601132 ) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @01:28PM (#23135294) Homepage Journal
    what kinds of adsense relationships they can match to genetic markers.

    the mind boggles....

    marker for a small penis and low intelligence? show them a camarro
    small penis and high intelligence? corvette

    • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @01:31PM (#23135318) Homepage
      Your (small) mind may boggle, but really, a) it's not about AdSense, it's about being a major player in the medical industry (where you get paid by hospitals and insurance companies and what-have-you, not just advertisements), and b) even if it was, if you had (say) a propensity for heart disease, one could see ads for all those "heart healthy" oatmeal+etc things.
      • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) * on Sunday April 20, 2008 @01:44PM (#23135388) Homepage

        it's about being a major player in the medical industry

        I think this is it. The Next Big Thing in the Medical Industrial Complex (other than taking out all of the insurance company executives and shooting them) is going to be managing enormous amounts of data. The Industry has shown it can't do it: Insurance companies have a vested interest in NOT letting anyone else see what they are doing / what data they're finding. The government - Bush's weak pronouncements aside - won't do anything. The various private companies involved in Health Care computing are still too small and fragmented to get anything done on a major scale within the mess that is the current US Healthcare system.

        This means either medical information will remain balkanized for the foreseeable future (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), or somebody (ie. Google and / or Microsoft) is going to try to tie everything together. Of course, this won't fix the major issues in healthcare delivery and financing in the US but it's one piece of the puzzle.

        • Seriously - I do genomics research in cancer. We use a variety of tests that generate reams of information. Most academic institutions develop their own overly complicated and highly specialized tools to look at this data. If Google is venturing into the realm of user accessible genetic information, they must be creating simple UI tools for the masses.

          I would love to get in on that aspect of things - either as a consultant or beta-tester. A Google Earth like genome browser is at the top of my wish list.
      • Privacy (Score:4, Interesting)

        by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @03:22PM (#23135974) Homepage Journal
        What really concerns me about Google and MS getting into the medical data business is that they are NOT covered by the HIPPA law (privacy rules). They can data mine your medical data, should they get it, to their hearts content.

        I suggest people in the US contact their Congresscritters about revising HIPPA to cover online web accessible databases.
        • Even if Google were covered by HIPPA, there are still problems. HIPPA is far from a complete solution, and it's even worse when the data is in Google's hands. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Google knows too much [] already.

          The problem isn't necessarily that Google would misuse any healthcare data -- Google has too much at stake to do anything stupid like sell personal data to the highest bidder. The problem is that any concentration of that much data in one company's hands--from email to search
          • by rtb61 ( 674572 )
            Of course genetic profiling does remain a real threat. So would corporations abuse genetic profiling, would governments abuse genetic profiling, the answer is currently, yes. Knowing which individuals are likely to remain free thinkers and oppose bad government decisions and should be targeted from a early age, is a threat. For corporations being able to target people who are more susceptible to marketing, those who would willingly bury themselves in debt to buy the latest B$ marketed piece of shiny junk, i
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by dookiesan ( 600840 )
        These are nice theories but I have a simpler one. The founder of 23andMe is wife of one of the google founders (so I heard).
        • This is true and should be modded up immediately.
        • I should say that the data 23andMe will collect is very valuable. People are talking about them and what they're doing deserves funding. It's just that if you want the most obvious reason why Google would announce investment in a small biotech startup, I think that is it. I don't doubt that it will be an excellent investment, but the obvious has to be pointed out.
          • I should say that the data 23andMe will collect is very valuable.

            Yes, I am quite sure that some companies will pay a lot of money for the results in this research. I'm also quite sure that it's a bit double-sided: the company with the winning bid could be researching the cure for cancer, but it could also be an insurance company. I don't know but I suggest to be careful in these matters.

  • ...that the field of biology was ripe for an investment of programmer time. We even had a course touching on the basics of DNA and the types of searching/sorting/etc that would be relevant.

    I suppose it's not surprising that the big boys are coming to play, then :)

    • Yup. Bioinformatics is a big field now. I started in biology 10 years ago, but I'm now a very good engineer (who is also often the subject matter expert for our group.)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    They're stealing a few ideas from the X-Men's Mr. Sinister. By cataloging DNA, they'll be able to find perfect matches and breed super intelligent engineers, ala Scott Summers/Jean Grey turning out Cable.
    • by Barny ( 103770 )
      Actually imho google just won the race to become the first cyberpunk style "mega-corp" with their finger in EVERY pie.

      How long before we see genetically enhanced, cyber augmented killing machines storming microsoft headquarters?

      Hopefully not long :)
  • Iv always wanted to see ad's based on my genetic makeup.
  • by Cytlid ( 95255 ) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @01:45PM (#23135396)
    Here's the link: []

    I thought it was interesting then. It's also important to point out, Anne Wojcicki's husband's name is Sergey Brin. Having access to massive amounts of computing power makes sense for a genetics company.
  • Do No Anvils

    Sorry, I know..

  • by nathan_w_cheng ( 700551 ) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @02:14PM (#23135542) Homepage
    I recently attended a legal studies lecture in which the professor (a lawyer) asserted that if any of us were to participate in such a program and any disease or predisposition for disease were discovered, that we would be legally obligated to make this known to any potential medical insurers the next time we apply for medical insurance. According to this lawyer, failure to disclose in this manner would result in annulment of the insurance should the failure be discovered.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Trutane ( 735208 )

      Don't trust everything your professors (or lawyers) tell you.

      A genetic predisposition for a disease in a currently healthy individual is not the same as having the disease. According to HIPAA [], genetic information in the absence of a current diagnosis of illness does not constitute a pre-existing condition.

      But HIPAA [] is just the beginning of genetic information protection. The real deal is something called GINA: Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) [], which recently passed in the U.S. Congres

      • by Trutane ( 735208 )
        Good news for the Senate finally passing GINA: Congress Near Deal on Genetic Test Bias Bill (23 Apr 2008) [] Quoting from the article:

        "More than a decade after we began the effort to protect Americans from genetic discrimination, the Senate is finally poised to see the fruition of those efforts," [Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine] said in a press release that quoted another senator describing GINA as "the first civil rights act of the 21st century."

        Big stuff.

  • Our Mission:

    "organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful" ...for targeted advertising.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    conflict of interest.
  • by delvsional ( 745684 ) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @02:26PM (#23135596)
    What if I don't want my medical data to to "universally accessible"?
    • Why should that set of chemicals (your chromosomes) or that long string of letters (ATCG) belong to you?

      I assume you are only talking about your DNA sequence. There is much more than simply the base pairs. There are epigenetic modifications, RNA genome, and your proteome to name a few. In my work, it would be very advantageous to have a large number of sequences for a particular gene. This information can be used to learn how conserved the sequences are. Conservation is often a hint at function. But the k
  • Google DNA Mashups! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by KnowledgeEngine ( 1225122 ) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @02:28PM (#23135612)
    New from Google for 2009 DNA Mashups!

    Just login, choose your favorite DNA Samples (or upload your own), and select the chromosone pairs from the samples you wish to combine!
    Next choose Preview to see what your new organism will look like! Also, upload a base sample for a comparison chart between the original organism and your new lifeform!

    Last but not least our engineers hope to have a special suprise ready by April of 2010. Ordering! We hope to offer both "Retrovirus" for exisiting organism modification, and "Test Tube Compatible" for creating new lifeforms!

    Warning: Google claims no responsiblity for lifeforms based on DNA created with the beta.
    • by Ox0065 ( 1085977 )

      (or upload your own)
      the mind boggles. I don't think I want to think about this any more.
  • now you can find out if she snores with a few clicks of a mouse. Find out what she'll look like in 50 years by doing a genetic projection. Better then a background check.
    • We've been doing that for centuries. Anyone who marries a girl without seeing what her Mom looks like is daft. Granted, this would be higher definition, but still...I'm just sayin'...

      The adage is "Like the mother, marry the daughter" as I recall, and yes my tounge is lodged in my cheek.
      • 1. Watch the potential mother-in-law sleep for 9 hours.
        2. Enquire if the potential father-in-law sleeps in the same room as the mother-in-law.
        3. ...
        4. Profit (at least in terms of not dreaming about chewbacca every night, then waking up to discover its just the wife lying on her back again with her head tucked into her chest).
  • by chooks ( 71012 ) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @02:53PM (#23135784)

    The New England Journal of Medicine actually had an interesting article about direct-to-consumer genetic testing (Jan 10, 2008 [] -- sorry not a free link (unless you can get it through your institution)). Three main points it makes is that

    1. There are questions regarding quality control and transparency. Due to the numbers involved, even small percentage mistakes in sequencing can add up and give wrong information.
    2. What is the clinical validity of the sequence such that it can accurately predict the disease? Lack of a sequence may give a false sense of security, and presence of a sequence may cause unnecessary harm.
    3. What can you do clinically given the answers? There is little observational or clinical data for how the genetic information can be used effectively, especially for low penetrant conditions.

    Clearly, there are disease where knowing ones gene status is very helpful (e.g. BRCA1/2, MEN1/2A/2B, etc...) but many disease we are just in the infancy of determining their genetic basis. The article sums things up like this:

    So what advice should a physician offer patients? For the patient who appears with a genome map and printouts of risk estimates in hand, a general statement about the poor sensitivity and positive predictive value of such results is appropriate, but a detailed consumer report may be beyond most physicians' skill sets. For the patient asking whether these services provide information that is useful for disease avoidance, the prudent answer is "Not now -- ask again in a few years." More information is needed on the clinical utility of this information in the light of existing disease-specific opportunities for prevention or early detection and the potential value that genomic profiles can add to that of simpler tools, such as the family health history. Finally, given the risk of commercial exploitation, if patients are determined to proceed, perhaps because they are simply curious, are genetic hobbyists, or are "early adopters" of new technology, it would make sense to encourage them to enroll in formal scientific studies.
    • This is the key issue. You are not doing a home pregnancy test when you do a genome wide scan. The answer is not yes or no. Even if you accept that disease risk is a) not all genetic and b) is an imperfect number, there will come new associations that can not currently predict. This will include new diseases, behavioral traits such as aggression, meekness, and intelligence. Like the associations we know about know, the degree to which the genes matter will be uncertain. But, your information will already
  • This has to be the most awesome thing Google has done. Now, when Google has DNA from both your parents, they'll send you a free email alert in your GMail inbox, a day before you are expected to get a heart attack.
  • Google looks all set to become the next evil guy in the tech-world. What if the next "matrix" is built inside the Googleplex? After Google starting to aggree sharing its data with the CIA, the government beginning to index DNA of everyone arrested and now google willing to index the world's genetic information, the BIG BROTHER that George Orwell predicted is now only a matter of time.
  • Um, pass... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @03:57PM (#23136218)
    I'm not terribly interested in having my genetic information be "universally accessible and useful".

    I'm sure Google will enable one to opt out of this kind of thing, but I'm not sure which chromosome I need to store my robots.txt file in.
  • Mr DNA, where did you come from?
  • by Prisoner's Dilemma ( 1268306 ) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @05:32PM (#23136826)
    The classifying and storage of all your medical information is already taking place. Read the fine print on most insurance forms you sign. Where it says MIB they aren't taking about the movie.

    The Medical Information Bureau is a private company that almost every insurance company reports your medical information to under the guise of (fraud prevention). The maintain records on everyone and then sell that information to their members. Also interesting, they are classified as a âoeconsumer reporting agencyâ according to FACTA. And, according their website, they are required to comply with FCRA, but Its wholly-owned operating subsidiary, MIB Solutions, Inc., MAY be required to comply with FCRA.

    Also from their website "Most of MIB's codes signify medical conditions. A very few of these indicate risks involving HAZARDOUS AVOCATIONS or ADVERSE DRIVING RECORDS, etc." (These are currently being used to deny insurance to people.)
    "MIB's Security Alert Services is a compliance solution designed to assist insurance and FINANCIAL SERVICES companies in fulfilling their legal obligations under the USA PATRIOT Act - U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and Canada's Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI)" (OFAC, OSFI, PATRIOT Act!!!!)

    For those who think they have some protection under HIPAA. HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, has been publicized as helping to protect your privacy by instituting huge penalties for disclose of medical information. It's a joke. Its definitions of when disclosure of your information are so general that almost anything can be allowed. For 10+ years I was a professional preventer of natural selection. As far as privacy is concerned, there is no HIPAA.

    I don't thing Google will add a feature to street view that shows that the resident has CF or Sickle Cell. I do however think that once the information is in a form where these links could be made, they will be.

    • well of course we didn't think MIB meant a movie,you silly goose, we know what it takes to do SNMP
  • Would my entire genetic code be considered Intellectual Property, and if so, can I get a patent? Hmmm... maybe my parents would get me the birthday gift that keeps giving (legal entertainment), the patent for my genes. w00t!
  • Oh won't that be delightful? Tapping away one day and suddenly you see...

    Looking for pancreatic cancer?
    Find exactly what you want today

    New coffins at Amazon
    Low prices on gasket seal caskets
    Qualified orders over $25 ship free

Recent investments will yield a slight profit.