Microsoft announces general availability of cloud-based tools for genomics research

In order for scientists to make breakthroughs that could help lead to cures for pediatric cancers, researchers around the world need to be able to easily share and collaborate on genomic data. That’s why, in 2010, computational biologist Jinghui Zhang and her team at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis started uploading anonymized genomes of their patients’ healthy and cancerous cells to public data repositories.

“We realized that it was very hard for people to download the data and use the data for their research because of the sheer size and volume of the data,” said Zhang. “So, St. Jude started to seriously explore other ways to facilitate data sharing with the global research community.”

That led to a collaboration with members of the genomics group in Microsoft’s research organization. At the time, Microsoft was beginning work on a cloud-based computational pipeline to align billion-piece puzzles of raw genomic data with reference genomes, and then identify where the aligned and reference genomes differ, an analytical technique known as alignment and variant calling.

On Wednesday, Microsoft announced the general availability of the Microsoft Genomics service, the publicly available offering that is the result of Microsoft’s initial work in this area.