Should Google be Able to Read Your Genome?

Illustration for article titled Should Google be Able to Read Your Genome?

Gene-sequencing technology is taking off, but George Church at Harvard University is taking it to the next level: he wants to sequence the genomes of 100,000 people. Right now, about 12 human genomes have been sequenced and Church's ambitious plan is likely to cost cost around $1 billion to complete. Recently Google — who in February announced its Google Health software for storing electronic medical records — agreed to foot a major part of the bill. Google gives us free email, chat, search, a shopping client, and so on and all they've ever asked is that we let them look at all over our most private information. Seems like a fair trade, but does that extend to our DNA?


Church has good reasons for wanting piles of genomic data. As a Bloomberg article on the project says:

By matching genetic data from each person with his or her health history, Church would build a database that would link DNA variations and disease for scientists and drugmakers, the first step in deciding on treatments that can block the mutations or adjust how they work within the body.

Church also said he'll explore other human traits under genetic control. Participants will give facial and body measurements, tell researchers what time they get up in the morning, and detail other behaviors, he said.

Church has already partially sequenced genomes from 10 people, and the jump to 100,000 is under review by a Harvard ethics panel. The project ``only stops when we stop learning things,'' Church said.

We should note: there's no evidence of wrongdoing here, and Google has never explicitly said "we want to organize genetic information." True, they are major investors in the personal genomics company 23andMe, but we have every reason to believe that Big brother "don't be evil" Google will play it straight, keeping any information they have access to safe and anonymous.

But still you've got to wonder, does Google want direct access to DNA information? And if so, why?

Source: Bloomberg via SciGuy

Graphic: Personal Genome Project (Church's outfit)



Josh Wimmer


Charlie Jane: "So you see, Sheriff, Google was hoping to get everybody's genome sequence so they could use it to break into the bank and steal Miss Goodling's diamond!"

Sergey Brin: "And we would've gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!"

Meadowlark: "Hey, there's still time to make it to the game! Hop to it, Globetrotters!"

Annalee: "Wait! My glasses! I can't find my glasses!"