By: Beth Vaughan
This has been a revolutionary month for the study of autism. A research project by Google and Autism Speaks to sequence and study human genomes and seek a breakthrough for autism was officially launched on December 9, 2014. This is the world’s largest genomic database of sequenced genomic information on people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their family members.
This pioneering effort is called The MSSNG (pronounced “Missing”) Project – with the missing vowels representing the missing information – because what we know about autism is not enough. Liz Feld, the president of Autism Speaks, says the project is “the most promising autism research that’s ever been done,” adding that prior research has shown that answers lie in the DNA.
By sequencing the DNA of over 10,000 families affected by autism, MSSNG will answer the many questions we still have about the disorder.
Thanks to the Google Cloud, this vast sea of information will be made accessible for free to researchers everywhere and will provide an open resource for scientists worldwide to access and share autism research. This means that the greatest minds in science, from all over the world will be able to study trillions of data points in one single database.
Previously known as The Autism Speaks Ten Thousand Genomes Program (AUT10K), MSSNG is a significant milestone in advancing genomic research of autism and could lead to breakthroughs into the causes, subtypes and better diagnosis and treatment for the disorder.
The campaign will be supported online via a social movement to raise awareness and donations. It encourages supporters to remove vowels from their Twitter display name by going to their profile, clicking “Edit” then “Name” and removing vowels. Autism Speaks invites its supporters to post the following: We’re missing a lot of information on autism. Support @AutismSpeaks project #MSSNG by removing letters from your name: http://mss.ng.
Sequencing the whole genome of 10,000 families requires massive resources. To complete this immense task, the MSSNG Project needs to raise $25 million by the end of next year. To put it in perspective, each person’s genetic code contains over 3 Billion strands of DNA, multiplied by 10,000 people; the database will reach 3 trillion strands. That’s not a small number. The amount of data is massive – the equivalent of watching more than 13 years of continuous streaming high-definition TV.
“Millions of people living with autism today need answers,” says Autism Speaks President Liz Feld. “The MSSNG project is the search for those answers, and we’re going to find them. The best research minds in the world are going to mine this database of DNA so we can uncover and understand the various subtypes of autism. Then we can get to work developing customized treatments and therapies so we can improve the quality of life for so many people who need help.”
To donate to MSSNG Project: http://www.mss.ng/donate