Google and Autism Speaks—the largest autism awareness organization in the country—have partnered towards the end of accelerating research on the developmental disorder. Google will house the sequencing of 10,000 complete genomes and other clinical data of children with autism and their siblings and parents.
Studying genes is believed to be the key to understanding diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and autism. Thus far many universities and research institutions have been unable to adequately study genomes due to lacking resources and an inability to store the kind of data they need. Huge DNA databases require computing and storage that only tech-giants such as Google can provide and manage.
This database will be part of AUT10K, a genome mapping project. It is thought to be the largest collection of whole genomes in the world, and once complete, will be made available to all qualified researchers, essentially “leveling out the research field”. Given that the digital representation of a genome takes up approximately 100GB—i.e., only about 10 genomes fit on the average computer—access to this kind of data could be a total game changer. Cloud computing, the only way that this will be possible, will also allow for “seamless collaboration”, and will hopefully propel the rate of research and discovery forward exponentially.
DNA research has already provided some major insight into autism, informing us that there is not just one, but a number of different forms of the disease. Whole-genome sequencing, or the ability to look at every single letter in a person’s DNA should provide both an overview and level of detail that allows researchers to understand what autism is in a completely unprecedented way. This is an exciting development for autism research and is particularly prevalent for the people and families affected by the disease.