Google and Your Genes

Google’s relationship with your genome has been cause for hopeful speculation.  The final chapter of Vise’s and Malseed’s new book on Google throws a little light on the matter:

One of the most exciting Google projects involves biological and genetic research that could foster important medical and scientific breakthroughs. Through this effort, Google may help accelerate the era of personalized medicine…

…Over dinner and plenty of wine in February 2005, Sergey Brin discussed the prospects for genetics and Google with the maverick biologist Dr. Craig Venter…Also at the table was Ryan Phelan, chief executive officer of DNA Direct [editor: and my boss], one of the foremost Internet companies providing individuals with genetic testing and counseling…Not long after the dinner in California, Brin and Page teamed up with Venter…[who is quoted as saying:] "Working with Google, we are trying to generate a gene catalogue to characterize all the genes on the planet and understand their evolutionary development. Geneticists have wanted to do this for generations." Over time, Venter said, Google will build up a genetic database, analyze it, and find meaningful correlations for individuals and populations.

Also last week, Google Base was unveiled.  Pedro Beltrao (blog) has tested the waters with a little sequence data (nucleic and protein) and a discussion.  Are the database that Venter refers to above and Google Base one and the same?


David Vise & Mark Malseed. The Google Story Delacorte Press, 2005.


Free Web-Enabled Family History Tool

Health and Human Services (HHS) have released V2 of their family history tool.  This one is light-years better than V1, principally because it is now web-enabled. 

Boy Identifies Formerly Anonymous Sperm Donor Father

A 15-year old boy conceived through anonymous sperm donation has tracked down his biological father using several morsels of information supplied by his mother, information about his own Y chromosome supplied by a dna test he ordered online, and a geneological database. The details are supplied by New Scientist:

The boy paid $289 for the service. His genetic father had never supplied his DNA to the site, but all that was needed was for someone in the same paternal line to be on file. After nine months of waiting and having agreed to have his contact details available to other clients, the boy was contacted by two men with Y chromosomes closely matching his own. The two did not know each other, but the similarity between their Y chromosomes suggested there was a 50 per cent chance that all three had the same father, grandfather or great-grandfather.

Importantly, the men both had the same last name, albeit with different spellings. This was the vital clue the boy needed to start his search in earnest. Though his donor had been anonymous, his mother had been told the man’s date and place of birth and his college degree. Using another online service,, he purchased the names of everyone that had been born in the same place on the same day. Only one man had the surname he was looking for, and within 10 days he had made contact.

The privacy implications for other anonymous sperm donors is significant. Equally astonishing is the implication of this 15 year old boy: young persons of the Net-Generation, so called N-geners, are superpower users of technology. The ability of this kid to piece together a mishmash of technologies and services on the web for his purposes is truly remarkable.

Growing_up_digitalDon Tapscott. Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
Genetic_secretsMark Rothstein. Genetic Secrets : Protecting Privacy and Confidentiality in the Genetic Era. Yale UP 1999.

New URL Digs for the Personal Genome Project

George Church has slowly been piecing together a his Personal Genome Project.  In a significant step, it looks like he has acquired new url digs:

Population Genomics Observatory

New website that aims to track public population projects in genomics, the P3G Observatory:

In its effort to provide information and tools for large-scale
population genetics projects, the P3G Observatory contains a catalog of
population genomics studies as well as detailed questionnaire

OTC Cancer Testing

I’m sure OTC diagnostics, whether it be for HIV or cancer is not for everyone — but this doesn’t mean, I believe, that no one should be able to have access to such tests.  This week’s MIT Tech review covers developments in cancer diagnostics that promise to make quick, easy, inexpensive cancer detection a reality:

According to [Charles] Lieber, the device, which uses nanowires to detect
telltale cancer proteins, could lead to inexpensive and highly-accurate
tests — people could even buy them in a local drugstore and perform
the testing themselves. "We can take a very small amount of blood and
with a very simple filtration step get an answer within five minutes,"
Lieber says, adding that the device has "a sensitivity a thousand times
better" than in a lab.

Kevin Bullis, Drugstore Cancer Tests, MIT Tech Review. Oct 31 2005.

Charles Lieber’s Homepage at Harvard University.