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National gene bank to improve health, preserve biodiversity

DATE:2016-09-23       SOURCE:Xinhua News Agency

SHENZHEN, Sept. 22 (Xinhua) -- The China National GeneBank (CNGB), located in Shenzhen, was officially opened Thursday, aiming to promote human health research and the conservation of global bio-diversity.


Initiated by China's National Development and Reform Commission in 2011, the project was established by Shenzhen-based BGI, one of the world's leading genomics organizations.


Covering an area of over 47,500 square meters, the gene bank has saved more than 10 million bio-samples and established cooperation and research with over 100 organizations in areas such as human health, bio-diversity, and biological evolution.


BGI president Wang Jian said the mission of the CNGB is to "preserve the essence of a billion years of evolutionary history and deposit the life foundations of billions of people."


Mei Yonghong, director of the CNBG, said the gene bank was not only a database, but combined a bio-information bank, a bio-samples and genetic resources bank and a living resources bank of plant, animal and microbe species. It also includes a digitization platform and a synthesis and editing platform, he said.


"Generally speaking, we collect biological resources in the world, read the genetic data of living things with sequencers, use super computers to obtain the results and write the gene code on the synthesis and editing platform," Mei said.


Gene research is not only an effective way to prevent birth defects and discover genetic diseases in their early stages, but also of great significance in the treatment of diseases and protection of bio-diversity.


"Stored human cells may help cure many diseases in the future, with the improvement of medical technology," said Xu Xun, executive director of the CNGB. "For example, skin stem cells saved at a young age may be able to help people restore youthfulness by enabling skin reproduction. Immune cells stored at a good health stage may help restore people's immune systems later in life."


The CNGB also aims to create a network to foster global collaboration and communication, and to promote innovation in the community, he added.


The gene bank has established guidelines to enable the exchange and sharing of data and genetic resources with the world's major databases, such as NCBI, EMBL-EBI and DDBJ, and with biobanks including the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Heidelberg University and the Smithsonian Institute.


The establishment of the CNGB has been applauded by the international community.


"Large collection of individuals in national cohort studies will allow us to better predict and eventually prevent the onset of diseases. The China National GeneBank will be essential to improving the life and health of future generations," said Irina Lehmann, department head of environmental immunology at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany.


"The grand opening of the China National GeneBank is a major leap forward in China's ongoing effort to position itself at the very top of worldwide genomics," said Roland Eils, professor of Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics at Heidelberg University.


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