Google's Calico Forage Ancestry.com to Find Out What's in Your Genes

Published: Jul 22, 2015

Google's Calico Forage Ancestry.com to Find Out What's in Your Genes
July 22, 2015
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

South San Francisco, Calif.-based Calico Life Sciences, a Google Inc.-funded research and development company, announced yesterday a partnership with Provo, Utah-based AncestryDNA. The two companies will work together to analyze and investigate genetics and longevity using Ancestry’s proprietary databases, tools and algorithms.

“On the heels of our AncestryHealth launch and our one million genotyped customers milestone for AncestryDNA, we’re excited to announce this collaboration with Calico to research and develop life changing solutions,” said Ken Chahine, executive vice president and head of DNA and Health at AncestryDNA in a statement. “We have laid the groundwork for this effort through the combination of an unmatched family history database, one of the fastest growing genetic databases, and a strong and talented team of computer scientists and professional genealogists.”

Dubbed one of Google’s “moonshot” projects, Calico focuses on extending and controlling lifespan and other age-related diseases, including cancer and neurodegeneration. Over the last year, Calico has been involved in several collaborative agreements.

In September 2014, Calico inked an agreement with AbbVie , with the intention of hiring up to 150 new staff members for the San Francisco Bay area. Each company was investing $250 million into the project. Calico was to focus on research and development for the first five years and advancing projects through Phase IIa for a 10-year period. AbbVie was to support the research, and once Phase IIa studies are completed, will manage and commercialize any products.

In June 2015, Google announced a partnership with the Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University to launch a version of Broad Institute’s Genome Analysis Toolkit (GATK) on Google’s Cloud Platform. This deal is to allow Broad Institute to focus on genomics while Google handles the computer and bioanalytics aspects.

In March 2015, Calico entered into a partnership with QB3, a University of California institute advancing biotechnology to study the effects of aging and how to prolong longevity.

AncestryDNA, a division of Ancestry.com, sells DNA kits for $99 that help people map their family history, in the process generating a million separate genetic samples in a database that can be anonymized for research. Calico will be able to analyze millions of family trees via Ancestry.com, which will also provide access to dates of birth and death, relationships and geographical locations.

“Now that we’ve got one million samples, there’s enough statistical power in the dataset to elucidate drug targets,” said Ken Chahine, Ancestry’s executive vice president and head of DNA and health in a SFGate article “If you aggregate a set of individuals who had long-lived families and we have their genetic information as well, that’s a way to start making hypotheses about the heritability of longevity.”

Certainly the possibility exists that such a massive amount of genetic information keyed to longevity and health data may provide ways of pinpointing genetic markers, epigenetic and gene-related sites that contribute to good health and longevity.

“Our common experience suggests that there may be hereditary factors underlying longevity, but finding the genes responsible using standard techniques has proven elusive,” said David Botstein, Calico’s chief scientific officer, in a statement. “This is an extraordinary opportunity to address a fundamental unanswered question in longevity research.”

Calico and Ancestry.com are not the only ones using this approach. In January 2015, Mountain View, Calif.-based 23andMe announced it had entered into an agreement with Pfizer Inc. . That deal provides Pfizer with access to 23andMe’s research platform, which includes the genotypes of 800,000 people.

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