Unlocking DNA secrets with a Canadian genome search engine

Featured in Globe and Mail, December 18, 2014

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Often called the book of life, human DNA has been no easy read for scientists, who face the staggering challenge of figuring out which genetic mutations lead to disease. People carry millions of them in their code, and there has been no efficient way to tell the ones that cause diseases such as cancer from those that simply make ear wax moist.

Now, a research team led by computer engineers at the University of Toronto says it has developed a biological browser, a first-of-its-kind filtering technology that may finally solve the problem.

Like a powerful search engine that mines the web for answers, the new computational system combs the human genome to seek and sort meaningful mutations. Google Inc., along with other companies, has already expressed an interest in it – raising questions about what could, or should, happen with publicly funded technology that is likely to be in demand in a growing world of Big Data.