Deep learning has already had a huge impact on computer vision and speech recognition, and it’s making inroads in areas as computer-unfriendly as cooking. Now a new startup led by University of Toronto professor Brendan Frey wants to cause similar reverberations in genomic medicine.
Deep Genomics plans to identify gene variants and mutations never before observed or studied and find how these link to various diseases. And through this work the company believes it can help usher in a new era of personalized medicine.
Genomic research is hard. Scientists still know relatively little about our genes and how they interrelate. But Frey and others in the field now know enough that they can equip machines to do the heavy lifting. And there’s an awful lot of this heavy lifting to do. “Genomics is no longer about small datasets,” Frey tells Gizmag. “It’s now about very, very large datasets.”
For context, the first effort to sequence a full human genome took 13 years – running from 1990 to 2003. There are now many companies working to sequence many genomes at a time. The largest of these is called Illumina. “Illumina,” Frey says, “expects to sequence one million genomes in the next year. Each genome contains three billion letters. That’s a lot of data.”
An international team of researchers led by the University of Arizona has sequenced the complete genome of African rice.
The genetic information will enhance scientists’ and agriculturalists’ understanding of the growing patterns of African rice, as well as enable the development of new rice varieties that are better able to cope with increasing environmental stressors to help solve global hunger challenges.
“Rice feeds half the world, making it the most important food crop,” Wing said. “Rice will play a key role in helping to solve what we call the 9 billion-people question.”
The 9 billion-people question refers to predictions that the world’s population will increase to more than 9 billion people – many of whom will live in areas where access to food is extremely scarce – by the year 2050. The question lies in how to grow enough food to feed the world’s population and prevent the host of health, economic and social problems associated with hunger and malnutrition.
Now, with the completely sequenced African rice genome, scientists and agriculturalists can search for ways to cross Asian and African species to develop new varieties of rice with the high-yield traits of Asian rice and the hardiness of African rice.