China has opened a national gene bank that could ultimately be the world's biggest, eventually housing 300 million genetic samples.
The China National GeneBank (CNGB), which is based in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, has been dubbed 'China's Noah's Ark' by the Chinese media. The billion-dollar centre is the fourth national gene bank of its kind in the world, following similar projects in the US, UK and Japan. It was set up by the Chinese government and the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI).
'We hope to make the gene bank China's, and even the world's, biggest biological information data centre, like Google but in the field of life and health data,' Mei Yonghong, director of the centre, told the Xinhua news agency.
The gene bank will contain human, animal and plant data as well as living samples. 'Generally speaking, we collect biological resources in the world, read the genetic data of living things with sequencers, use supercomputers to obtain the results and write the gene code on the synthesis and editing platform,' Mei said.
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'.
The new gene bank has been welcomed by the international scientific community. '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, Germany.
The gene bank could also help to bring down the cost of genetic sequencing. It is currently possible to sequence an individual's entire genome under $1000, but Mei told China Daily that the CNGB aims bring down the price to 1000 yuan ($152).