Google joins genomics alliance as it prepares industry-focused cloud services

Over the past year Google ($GOOG) has increasingly extended its tendrils into healthcare, with the creation of Calico and development of smart contact lenses following on from earlier investments in DNAnexus and 23andMe. The process continued this week when the search giant created Google Genomics and became a member of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health.

Google joins Illumina ($ILMN), Merck ($MRK) and the New York Genome Center in the alliance, which now has 146 members based in 21 countries. Each has signed up to further the sharing of genomic and clinical data by establishing a common framework of international standards. Google sees itself playing an active role in this initiative and has already put forward its initial contribution to the alliance--a web-based application programming interface (API) to import, process, store and search genomic data at scale.

The API--called Google Genomics--is part of the company's pitch to become the engine room of genomics. Access to the API is currently limited to those approved by Google but the company has already laid out how it sees the system helping researchers. The platform will use cloud storage to allow researchers to access their data from anywhere and increase their capacity use on the fly. Google is also promising to help researchers process the data. The firm has previously used cloud-storage to support DNAnexus and others.

A preview implementation using sample data from the 1000 Genomes Project is already available. Google has also uploaded several open-source sample projects built around the API to code sharing site GitHub. The projects are intended as basic examples of tools developers could create to interact with the API. Google envisages an ecosystem of apps built upon the API to help researchers manage their data. It appears that eventually users will have to pay for Google Genomics, but pricing has yet to be decided.

The creation of Google Genomics puts the company up against Amazon ($AMZN), which has already pitched its cloud-storage services to the nascent industry. Amazon Web Services (AWS) for Genomics' offer of on-demand, pay-as-you-go cloud data storage and analysis tools has been taken up by a Baylor College of Medicine-led project to sequence DNA from 14,000 people and startups like Courtagen. Genomics looks set to join fields as diverse as shopping, robotics and mobile as a battleground between Amazon and Google.

- here's Google's announcement
- check out the Google Genomics site