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Geneticist's startup hopes to defeat human aging with world's largest genome library

Geneticist's startup hopes to defeat human aging with world's largest genome library

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Geneticist J. Craig Venter, who has made headlines for his genomic research and helping develop what's been called the first synthetic life form, is launching a new company with the goal of delaying aging and extending human lives. Human Longevity, Inc. is co-founded by Venter, biotechnologist and entrepreneur Robert Hariri, and Peter Diamandis, who founded the X Prize Foundation and more recently co-founded asteroid mining startup Planetary Resources. Its goal is to create the world's most comprehensive human genome sequencing project, capturing and cross-referencing genetic information from a cross-section of people both sick and healthy — it hopes to sequence 40,000 human genomes a year, with an eventual goal of 100,000 annually.

These genomes could help scientists develop treatments for cancer, dementia, and other health problems that intensify with age, and Venter hopes to address multiple conditions by targeting aging as a whole. "Your age is your number one risk factor for almost every disease, but it's not a disease itself," he tells The New York Times. Human Longevity's work depends on a recently developed supercomputer designed to process 20,000 genomes a year, drastically cutting the cost of research: sequencing a single genome once cost millions of dollars, but it's now dipped to a few thousand. The company behind it, Illumina, is a significant backer of Venter's work, theTimes reports, although Human Longevity has also raised $70 million from investors.

Venter, a longtime researcher and entrepreneur, famously attempted to pit his own company against the official Human Genome Project; the competition ended in a draw in 2000 when both parties produced results within a few days of each other. Now, he's racing a number of other researchers attempting to crack the problem of aging, often with support from major tech companies. Last year, Google launched a company called Calico to pursue life-extending technologies, and a collection of executives from Facebook, Apple, Google, and others previously founded a prize for breakthrough anti-aging research.