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An idyllic suburban district in southern China’s tech boomtown of Shenzhen is now home to what some are calling “China’s Noah’s Ark.” There, a grand new complex stores and analyzes biological and genetic samples and profiles of Chinese of all races as well as all flora and fauna within the country’s borders.
The 47,500-square-meter China National GeneBank, located in Shenzhen’s Dapeng district known for its lush greenery, was only inaugurated in July 2018 but has already amassed 20 million genetic samples, according to Xinhua. It has a biorepository, a bioinformatics data center and a living biobank.
The center aims to boost the size of its collection to a staggering 300 million samples of living organisms including animals, plants, micro-organisms and human body cells, ova and sperm, after a second phase of development is complete.
Legions of refrigerators store samples at temperatures as low as minus-200 degrees Celsius, while researchers have access to 150 domestically developed desktop gene sequencing machines and a US$20 million Revolocity machine, known as a “supersequencer.”
Xinhua said the facility was the fourth of its kind worldwide after similar centers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan, namely the US National Center for Biotechnology Information, the European Bioinformatics Institute and the DNA Data Bank of Japan.
China used to store its samples in the three overseas banks, but construction of the Shenzhen facility received national backing after Beijing realized that preserving biodata could also be a national-security issue as the variations among the genomes from different races could be exploited by a potential adversary.
The state-of-the-art gene bank is a library of raw genome data to benefit research across an array of fields including medicine, pharmacology and biomedicine.
Cell samples are stored in liquid nitrogen at minus 196 degrees Celsius. Photo: Xinhua