What is the extent of genetics' impact on aging, and how much can be attributed to environmental and lifestyle factors? A new partnership between Google's biotechnology firm Calico and Ancestry.com may be able to unravel some of science's most persistent questions about the relationship between genetics and longevity.
Through its AncestryDNA division, Ancestry.com sells DNA testing kits for $99 to help users of the website find their relatives on the site. It has now collected more than one million DNA samples, providing a statistically significant enough sample size to begin scientific research on genetics and longevity using the family trees created on the site. Calico, created by Google to study aging, has leveraged this large data set to locate and identify the genes responsible for long life.
"Our common experience suggests that there may be hereditary factors underlying longevity, but finding the genes responsible using standard techniques has proven elusive," Calico chief scientific officer David Botstein said in a statement. "This is an extraordinary opportunity to address a fundamental unanswered question in longevity research."
By analyzing the anonymized genetic data from the site's family trees, Calico hopes to develop targeted gene therapies that would help to extend life. The company was founded in 2013 in order to advance the field of aging-related diseases and therapies. Google CEO Larry Page said in a blog post after its founding that it hoped to create advances against aging by implementing "longer-term, moonshot thinking around health care and biotechnology."