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Venter Hires Google Translate Leader at Human Longevity Startup

Human Longevity, the San Diego startup founded by human genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter, says it has recruited Franz Och, a 42-year-old expert in machine learning and language translation, to develop new ways to rapidly interpret raw genomic and proteomic data.

Och has worked as a distinguished research scientist at Google for the past decade, and led Google’s machine translation group to develop better ways for computers to translate information from one language into another. Today, Google Translate has more than 200 million active users, and can be used to translate over 80 different languages, including Swahili, Yiddish, and Esperanto.

He’s joining Human Longevity as chief data scientist. In a statement from Human Longevity, Venter says Och will take on a similar challenge in developing computational methods for rapidly translating gene sequencing data into information that can be easily understood and “clinically actionable” by healthcare providers. “Franz brings not only unquestionable talent in this area, but also a fresh perspective and a creative mind to tackle what has never before been attempted,” Venter says.

Instead of moving to San Diego, however, Och plans to remain in Mountain View, CA, where he has begun to recruit research scientists and software engineers to interpret human genome, microbiome, and protein-sequencing data. He will report directly to Venter, who is the CEO of Human Longevity and Synthetic Genomics, another San Diego life sciences company. Venter also heads the J.Craig Venter Institute, a nonprofit research institute with facilities in San Diego and Rockville, MD.

In an interview with U-T San Diego’s Gary Robbins, Venter says “San Diego is a phenomenal place for recruiting biologically oriented scientists … but the Silicon Valley is for people into computation science. So rather than try to convince a few hundred people to move to La Jolla, we’re just going to build on the talent base in the Silicon Valley.”

Venter lifted the curtain on Human Longevity Inc., or HLI, in March. In the statement from the company, Och says: “We’re going to need the best and brightest from the areas of computer science, machine learning, and big data generation and interpretation, as well as those from biology, genomics, and bioinformatics to reach a new level of understanding of this massive database.”

Before joining Google, Och was a scientist at USC’s Information Sciences Institute, working on projects related to language translation for the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

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  • Harry Mann

    Sounds like a leap. And when they say “actionable”, I am not with them. That said, Google Translate is a very good tool.