BGI creates UK alliances to boost industrial genomics applications

10 July 2014

The Bejing Genomics Institute (BGI) is to partner with a UK university to create a Joint Centre for Environmental Omics.

BGI, the leading Chinese genome sequencing body and the University of Birmingham have said that the initiative will improve understanding of the human microbiome and how it alters in health and disease, and in response to environmental factors. This work is said to have ‘the potential to augment, or even replace, traditional diagnostic bacteriology’, and include not only DNA sequencing but also bioinformatics and metabolomics. BGI have just published a new genetic catalogue of the human gut microbiome in Nature Biotechnology.

Though not well defined, the overall aims for the new centre seem to be to help protect human health by identifying early signs of genomic changes (in response to external or environmental stresses) that could affect disease susceptibility and health.

Deputy Director of the new centre Xin Zhou told GenomeWeb News  that it would “allow the European Union and beyond to 'industrialize' knowledge for advancing regulatory science and its applications” and create rapid diagnostics for environmental health concerns.

However, the centre is also said to have involvement in providing tools and additional skill sets to integrate genomics into mainstream medicine such as in cancer treatment’, citing the involvement and expertise of the West Midlands Regional Genetics Laboratory, which provides genetics services for the NHS. How this relates to traditional diagnostic bacteriology or ‘environmental omics’ is not clear.

BGI’s contribution to the initiative is said to be in the provision of high-throughput sequencing capacity, as well as PhD students for the University and Birmingham student placements at BGI Shenzhen.

The institute has also just announced  a collaborative synthetic biology project with the Edinburgh Genome Foundry, one of three genomics facilities within the University of Edinburgh with which BGI are to collaborate based on a recent memorandum of understanding with the University. The collaboration with the Genome Foundry is intended to help both them and BGI gain ‘strategic advances’ in automated genome synthesis.

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