Why Google Chose the Name CALICO to Disrupt Aging

Google is disrupting aging. Disrupting is the buzz word for game changing tech but I haven’t heard it used with aging before but that’s what it looks like they are doing so go ahead Google, disrupt away. It’s pretty darn awesome to disrupt aging but what does this have to do with the name of this moonshot?

First, let’s put this on the table: Google says CALICO stands for California Life Company. We’ll come back to that and why I think it stands for Calico cats.


Calico is the hyper secretive division at Google dedicated to anti-aging run by Art Levinson, former CEO of Genentech. Bill Maris, Founder of Google Ventures was the idea man behind CALICO. Everything I’ve read in the media about Calico sounds like it was written by PR people and re-cycled by Larry Page, et al. It’s bland and unexciting verbiage on a very exciting topic.

Why have they been so secretive, speaking only in generalities such as “using big data to understand diseases”? I’m sure it is everything from hype to necessity. Make it secretive enough and that makes it exclusive. Talk too much and it dilutes the message and you lose top dog status.

Calico looks dynamic and exciting. The ability to bypass typical funding and lengthy old school research methods and fast track them with millions if not billions in private money and massive computing power is medicine of the future.

So, let’s dive in. It looks like a large part of what Calico is about is silencing genes to increase longevity.

Disrupting aging, increasing longevity, turning off diseases. And powered by private funding, beholden to no one…Google, this is fantastic!

Reasons (clues) why I think genetics and epigenetics (the interaction of environment with genetics) is what Calico is all about:

Genentech’s Art Levinson is a big message that genetics is front and center.

The recent hire of geneticist Cynthia Kenyon from UCSF is a bigger one. Dr. Kenyon was working on anti-aging from the perspective of daf2 or silencing of genes.

What’s that? The important take-away is in red italics.

From Science:

A C. elegans neurosecretory signaling system regulates whether animals enter the reproductive life cycle or arrest development at the long-lived dauer diapause stage. daf-2, a key gene in the genetic pathway that mediates this endocrine signaling, encodes an insulin receptor family member. Decreases in DAF-2 signaling induce metabolic and developmental changes, as in mammalian metabolic control by the insulin receptor. Decreased DAF-2 signaling also causes an increase in life-span. Life-span regulation by insulin-like metabolic control is analogous to mammalian longevity enhancement induced by caloric restriction, suggesting a general link between metabolism, diapause, and longevity.

CALICO CATS. This is the big clue as to what they are doing. Why choose the name Calico? CALICO cats get their color and gender selection issues (almost all calicos are female) because a gene is silenced or not expressed. Calico genetics is a big arena of study.

The unique orange-white-and-black patchwork fur on Calico cats is due to the silencing or inactivation of one of their two X chromosomes. Females have two copies of the X chromosome — one from the mother and one from the father. Only one active X chromosome is required so the second one is turned off.

Calico cats have an orange-fur-color gene on one X chromosomes and a black-fur gene on the other. Silence one and voila! a calico cat.

And we also have a company embedded in, headed by and fueled by geneticists, named CALICO.

If Google’s CALICO program can stop the signaling of an important gene, it can control aging. Kenyon’s lab is following her to Google. They have been very successful in anti-aging work via gene silencing so it makes sense. The domino effect of this work will be phenomenal. Silencing genes will have impact in disease research and expression, and of course, the pharmaceutical companies will charge in with drugs to silence genes.

Google has been primed for genetics research for a long time. Anne Wojcicki’s 23andme is funded by Google Ventures and she is both married and separated to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

Remember this? See how it ends…with invisibility…

The Duel
by Eugene Field (1850–1895)

The gingham dog and the calico cat Side by side on the table sat; ‘T was half-past twelve, and (what do you think!) Nor one nor t’ other had slept a wink! The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate Appeared to know as sure as fate There was going to be a terrible spat. (I was n’t there; I simply state What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)

The gingham dog went “Bow-wow-wow!” And the calico cat replied “Mee-ow!” The air was littered, an hour or so, With bits of gingham and calico, While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place Up with its hands before its face, For it always dreaded a family row! (Now mind: I ‘m only telling you What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)

The Chinese plate looked very blue, And wailed, “Oh, dear! what shall we do!” But the gingham dog and the calico cat Wallowed this way and tumbled that, Employing every tooth and claw In the awfullest way you ever saw — And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew! (Don’t fancy I exaggerate — I got my news from the Chinese plate!)

Next morning, where the two had sat They found no trace of dog or cat; And some folks think unto this day That burglars stole that pair away! But the truth about the cat and pup Is this: they ate each other up! Now what do you really think of that! (The old Dutch clock it told me so, And that is how I came to know.)

Originally published at www.thesiliconvalleystory.com on May 13, 2014.