PBS Newshour interviews Dr. Stephen Scherer about autism genetics collaboration with Google

October 22, 2015

The combined power of Google's analytical prowess and Autism Speaks' growing collection of genetic material from families affected by autism drew the US public broadcaster to visit Dr. Stephen Scherer's lab at SickKids.

PBS Special Correspondent Jackie Judd portrays the motivation behind the massive MSSNG autism genetics project, and its impacts within the microcosm of the Wilson Family of Toronto.

Lisa Wilson had known her youngest son, Jonathan, was different than his three brothers "literally, from day one." Fourteen years later, the mapping of his whole genome, along with those of his parents and siblings via the MSSNG project, has provided a reason why this was so: a spontaneous mutation on chromosome 16.

"I got the phone call, and it stopped me in my tracks, and I called [my husband] at work, and I immediately burst into tears, and I said, this changes everything and nothing. Nothing changes about how we live our lives, but he now is able to say, definitively; I have autism. I was born with it. It’s genetic."

Joined by Robert Ring, Autism Speaks' chief science officer and the researchers on the MSSNG project, Dr. Scherer said "every time a new genome comes in, we can run a dynamic kind of reassessment. Now we have the capability to do the ideal experiment," he added, "and that is to sequence the entire genome, the entire complement of DNA of all of these families, and decode the underpinnings of autism."

View the PBS segment "This search engine could help unlock autism's secrets."