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China National GeneBank Opens With Investments From BGI, Government

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The China National GeneBank, a nonprofit research institute founded by the Chinese government and BGI, officially opened its 47,500-square meter facility in Shenzhen today.

The center includes a "digital platform" equipped with next-generation sequencing instruments developed by BGI — 150 of its BGISEQ-500 desktop sequencers and one of its Revolocity instruments, according to BGI.

Bicheng Yang, director of communication and public engagement at BGI, told GenomeWeb that China's National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and Ministry of Health and Family Planning approved the CNGB in 2011. The government tapped BGI-Research to be in charge of its construction and management.

Since 2011, the CGNB has forged several research collaborations, including a project to sequence 1,000 fish transcriptomes and a collaboration with BioStorage to tap its biorepository expertise, but formally opened its facility this week.

Xu Xun, deputy director of BGI and former CEO of BGI Americas, will serve as executive director of CNGB. Yonghong Mei, who previously held multiple positions in the government including as deputy director of Ministry of Science and Technology and mayor of Jining, Shandong Province before joining BGI in 2015, is the director.

Construction and initial funding of the CNGB was provided by both the central and local governments as well as BGI, Yang said. She added that the details of the CNGB business model going forward are still being worked out.

Yang said the center consists of five arms divided into three "banks" and two "platforms." The banks include a biorepository, bioinformatics data center, and living biobank, while the platforms consist of a digital platform, which support the sequencing instruments, as well as a synthesis and editing platform.

The biorepository currently hosts more than 10 million samples from human, plant, animal, and microbes. The CNGB bioinformatics and data center, meantime, currently has the ability to store more than 20 petabytes of information and has a goal of reaching 500 petabytes.

CNGB's digital platform has installed 150 of BGI's desktop instrument BGISEQ-500 and one Revolocity. Both the BGISEQ-500 and Revolocity are based on technology developed by Complete Genomics, a subsidiary of BGI. BGISEQ-500 is a desktop instrument that has 16 different sequencing modes with outputs of between 8 gigabases and 16 gigabases, while Revolocity has much higher throughput, and can sequence 10,000 human genomes per year, according to BGI.

BGI launched Revolocity in June 2015, but subsequently put its commercialization on hold and made significant staff cuts to the Complete Genomics subsidiary in Mountain View, California as part of a shift in strategy to focus on other products and clinical assays, such as the BGISEQ-500. It launched BGISEQ-500 in China in October 2015 and said at the time that it planned to commercialize it globally this year, although it has not yet done so.

According to Yang, the CNGB aims to promote scientific collaboration by providing access to its biorepository "with the goal of enabling breakthroughs in human health research and contributing to global biodiversity conservation efforts."

To do this, it plans to strike up additional research collaborations. This week, it said it had launched a project with the German Cancer Research Center and Heidelberg University to study "epigenetic lesions caused by environment[al] exposure in the pre- and early postnatal period and to validate the relevance of these epigenetic lesions for the development of a variety of diseases," Yang said. In addition, it plans to work with the Svalbard Seed Vault on conservation and on a pilot project to sequence select crops, she added.

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