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BGI Europe Expands Staff, Inks Collaborations Ahead of Early 2012 Lab Opening

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By Justin Petrone

BGI Europe is in the process of expanding its sales and marketing operations, is outfitting its new laboratory space, and is participating in several large sequencing studies, all ahead of an official opening.

Marketing Director Xinhua Han told In Sequence that the European arm of the Chinese genome center has expanded to employ around 60 sales, marketing, and administrative staff since it was founded last year. BGI Europe also plans to recruit more personnel, including 30 lab technicians to work in its facility in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"As a premier scientific partner, BGI Europe focuses on research and applications in the healthcare, agriculture, conservation, and bio-energy fields," Han said. "Our goal is to make leading-edge genomics and bioinformatics highly accessible to all research communities around Europe."

Han spoke to In Sequence during a site visit to BGI Europe's new facility last week. She said that the lab will officially be operational in either late 2011 or early 2012.

BGI announced the establishment of a European office in the Danish capital, as well as a US office in Cambridge, Mass., in May 2010. At the time, it said it planned to invest $10 million to start its European activities, with the aim of offering research collaborations and services in sequencing and bioinformatics to clients on the continent (IS 5/25/2010).

As part of its sales and marketing activities, BGI Europe recently opened an online store, cloud-sequencing.com, to serve its clients.

A year since its founding, BGI Europe's efforts are still nascent. The organization is in the process of signing a contract to lease a 1,000 square-meter (about 10,000 square feet) space at the Copenhagen Bioscience Park. And, according to Han, BGI Europe will have 10 Illumina HiSeq instruments installed this fall.

The plan is to offer clients "almost all the latest technologies" related to next-generation sequencing. At the DNA level, BGI Europe will offer whole-genome sequencing, whole-exome sequencing, and target-region sequencing, Han said. At the RNA level, the facility will offer transcriptome sequencing, including RNA-seq for gene expression profiling, small RNA-seq, and non-coding RNA-seq. For epigenomics-related studies, BGI Europe will offer bisulfite sequencing; methylated DNA immunoprecipitation sequencing, or MeDIP-seq; methyl-binding protein sequencing, or MBD-seq; reduced representation bisulfite sequencing, or RRBS; chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing, or ChIP-seq; and RNA immunoprecipitation sequencing, or RIP-seq.

"We also focus on NGS technologies for low material input and clinical material, at both the DNA and RNA levels, including a proprietary solution for single-cell sequencing," Han said. She did not elaborate, but BGI Americas CEO Xun Xu described the single-cell sequencing method earlier this year at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Orlando (IS 4/12/2011).

BGI Europe will also use microarray technology. Han said that BGI Europe will use a SNP array genotyping platform as a "supplement and validation" tool for next-gen sequencing.

"BGI will continue seeking, developing, and collaborating on all potential technologies that would support genomics study, such as a biological function validation platform and proteomics," she said.

New Collaborations

The 12-year-old institute, headquarted in Shenzhen, China, maintains a fleet of more than 130 Illumina HiSeqs and nearly 30 Life Technologies SOLiD sequencers. More than 100 of these sequencers are housed at BGI's Hong Kong facility.

Although BGI Europe does not yet have its own sequencers, Han said it is already engaged in several projects with European researchers and samples for these projects are being run at BGI's Chinese facilities.

Two of these efforts are related to the the Danish Platform for Large-scale Sequencing and Bioinformatics project, or DPLSB, which was created in March with DKK170 million ($32 million) in funding and is anticipated to last five years (BAN 3/8/2011).

The Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation contributed about DKK86 million to the project, and a consortium of Danish universities and commercial partners provided the remaining DKK84 million. BGI Europe has pledged DKK60 million to help establish a sequencing and bioinformatics center to support the project, the University of Copenhagen said at the time.

In addition to BGI Europe and the University of Copenhagen, partners in the project include the Technical University of Denmark, Aarhus University, Ålborg University, Bavarian Nordic, and New York-based startup Genomic Expression.

The main aims of the project are to develop vaccines against cancer-causing pathogens and to create an atlas of genetic variation in the Danish population.

Eske Willerslev, a researcher at the University of Copenhagen, will lead a project to identify previously unknown pathogens that is designed to help develop and patent commercial vaccines. Karsten Kristensen, also affiliated with the University of Copenhagen, will lead a second project aimed at creating a catalogue of genetic variations in the Danish population, the university said. Ultimately, the researchers hope to sequence 1 percent of the Danish population, or around 50,000 people.

The resulting genome atlas will "serve as the foundation for new studies that will cast light on the hereditary causes for a number of common illnesses, as well as how they can be prevented," Han said. She said that the project will start as soon as the DPLSB lab center is set up in around 2012.

BGI Europe is also engaged in a similar project in the Netherlands, called the Netherlands Genome Project, which will map genetic variation in that country. By sequencing the genomes of 250 family trio samples, or 750 samples in total, the project will provide a "solid foundation for imputing rare variants … in more than the 100,000 samples already stored in Dutch biobanks and from results from conventional genome-wide association studies."

By analyzing the genomes of two parents and one offspring, the researchers hope to determine how a certain variant fits within the paternal and maternal patterns, BGI said in a statement. The 750 samples selected for analysis represent "healthy people living in the different regions of the Netherlands." Another goal of the project is to show the "amount of genetic variation among the different regions."

BGI announced the collaboration earlier this year (IS 3/22/2011). BGI is responsible for the whole-genome sequencing and basic analysis of the 750 genomes, while Dutch scientists will perform more advanced analysis and mining of the data, the institute said at the time.


Have topics you'd like to see covered in In Sequence? Contact the editor at jpetrone [at] genomeweb [.] com

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