Caixin
Sep 26, 2016 04:59 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

World's Fourth Gene Bank Opens in Shenzhen

(Beijing) — China has launched the world's fourth national-level gene storage bank, complementing similar facilities in the United States, Europe and Japan, in a bid to position the country for future growth in lucrative biotech fields such as curing diseases and developing new agricultural products.

The Thursday launch of the China National Genebank (CNGB) in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen is part of Beijing's broader effort to develop emerging high-tech industries with big growth potential, to replace lower-margin manufacturing that has been China's mainstay for the last two decades.

Other sectors receiving similar attention include alternative energy and semiconductor chips, though the results of government-backed initiatives in those areas have been mixed due to occasional abuses.

Dubbed "a Chinese Noah's Ark," the new gene bank can house up to 10 million genetic samples of homegrown and alien plant and animal species and microorganisms, with a storage capacity for 60 petabytes worth of genetic data, according to Xu Xun, the facility's executive director.

With a cost of 780 million yuan ($117 million) for its first phase, the facility will become the world's largest and most comprehensive gene bank with a collection of 300 million samples upon completion, Xu said. It will assist with research into rare diseases, as well as other fields like agriculture, marine biology and microbiology.

The Chinese facility differs from existing ones such as the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the United States in that it contains not only a large gene, protein and molecular database, but also a vast amount of living plant, animal and microorganism species, said CNGB director Mei Yonghong.

And whereas the other three global facilities are all state-funded, the Chinese one was launched through a public-private partnership, said Mei, who also serves as president of the privately owned Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI).

BGI contributed 360 million yuan to the first phase of the project, with the rest coming from central and regional authorities, Mei said. BGI will be paid to develop and maintain the facility.

BGI's major role in the project is reasonable due to its industry-leading position, said the founder of a genetic startup who spoke on condition of anonymity. But authorities must make sure to ensure a level playing field by maintaining competition in the sector, the source added.

Construction of the gene bank began after getting approval in 2011 from four central agencies, including the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and Ministry of Finance.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com); editor Doug Young (dougyoung@caixin.com)

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