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Google wants to define a healthy human with its new baseline genetic study

Mat Smith, @thatmatsmith
July 24, 2014
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Google's got a big new project and it's you. Well, not just you, but a genetic and molecular study of humanity that aims to grasp at what a healthy human should be. It's in its early days, collecting anonymous data from 175 people, but it plans to expand to thousands later. The project is headed up by molecular biologist Andrew Conrad, who pioneered cheap HIV tests for blood-plasma donations. According to the WSJ, the team at Google X current numbers between 70 and 100, encompassing experts in physiology, biochemistry, optics, imaging and molecular biology.

The Baseline project will apparently take in hundreds of different samples, with Google using its information processing talents to expose biomarkers and other patterns - the optimistic result hopefully being faster ways of diagnosing diseases. Biomarkers has typically been used with late-stage diseases, as these studies have typically used already-sick patients. "He gets that this is not a software project that will be done in one or two years," said Dr. Sam Gambhir, who is working with Dr. Conrad on the project. "We used to talk about curing cancer and doing this in a few years. We've learned to not say those things anymore."

Information from the project will remain anonymous: Google said that data won't be shared with insurance companies, but the shadow of privacy issues hang over pretty much anything the company touches. Baseline started this summer, initially collecting fluids such as urine, blood, saliva and tears from the anonymous guinea pigs. Tissue samples will be taken later. "With any complex system, the notion has always been there to proactively address problems," Dr. Conrad said. "That's not revolutionary. We are just asking the question: If we really wanted to be proactive, what would we need to know? You need to know what the fixed, well-running thing should look like."

In this article: baseline, dna, genetics, google, googlex
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