Google joins BRAIN Initiative to help with petabyte-scale data sets

Google's headquarters--courtesy of Google
Google's headquarters--Courtesy of Google

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has kicked off the BRAIN Initiative by awarding $46 million to 58 projects. And Google ($GOOG) has come on board as a commercial partner to develop software and infrastructure to handle the petabyte-scale data sets the projects are expected to generate.

Google's first task is to team up with the Allen Institute for Brain Science to develop scalable systems for the anticipated data deluge. Collaborations with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus and several academic partners are also in the pipeline. The broad goal of the projects is to give the neuroscience community tools to help turn data into insights about the brain's circuitry and the underlying neurobiology of mental processes.

The collaborations move Google deeper into life sciences, a field in which it has expanded on multiple fronts in recent years. In 2014, the search giant has introduced Google Genomics, joined the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health and signed up to provide cloud computing resources to the DREAM Challenge, while also advancing its biotech startup Calico and investing in Flatiron Health. Google's role as an enabler of BRAIN echoes some of its work in genomics.

Other groups involved with BRAIN are also tackling the problem of how to handle the data. Carnegie Mellon University is addressing the topic as part of its $40 million commitment to BRAIN, notably by partnering with research institutes in Asia and Europe to create and analyze big data sets, as well as teach people computational approaches to neuroscience. Carnegie Mellon's funding is part of the $240 million foundations and universities have committed to BRAIN.

- read the White House release (PDF)
- check out the NIH statement
- here's Bloomberg's take