China gene firm providing worldwide COVID-19 tests worked with Chinese military

Technicians work at a genetic testing laboratory of BGI in Kunming, Yunnan province, China, in 2018. | REUTERS

BGI Group, the world’s largest genomics company, has worked with China’s military on research that ranges from mass testing for respiratory pathogens to brain science, a review of research, patent filings and other documents has found.

The review, of more than 40 publicly available documents and research papers in Chinese and English, shows BGI’s links to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) include research with China’s top military supercomputing experts. The extent of those links has not previously been reported.

BGI has sold millions of COVID-19 test kits outside China since the outbreak of the new coronavirus pandemic, including to Europe, Australia and the United States. Shares of BGI Genomics Co., the company’s subsidiary listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange, have doubled in price over the past 12 months, giving it a market value of about $9 billion.

But top U.S. security officials have warned American labs against using Chinese tests because of concern China was seeking to gather foreign genetic data for its own research. BGI has denied that.

The documents reviewed by Reuters neither contradict nor support that U.S. suspicion. Still, the material shows that the links between the Chinese military and BGI run deeper than previously understood, illustrating how China has moved to integrate private technology companies into military-related research under President Xi Jinping.

The U.S. government has recently been warned by an expert panel that adversary countries and nonstate actors might find and target genetic weaknesses in the U.S. population and a competitor such as China could use genetics to augment the strength of its own military personnel.

BGI has worked on PLA projects seeking to make members of the ethnic Han Chinese majority less susceptible to altitude sickness, Reuters found, genetic research that would benefit soldiers in some border areas.

Elsa Kania, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank, who has provided testimony to U.S. Congressional committees, said that China’s military has pushed research on brain science, gene editing and the creation of artificial genomes that could have an application in future bioweapons. She added that such weapons are not currently technically feasible.

BGI’s pattern of collaboration with the Chinese military was a “reasonable concern to raise” for U.S. officials, said Kania.

In response to questions, BGI said it adheres to international standards and Chinese laws related to open science, data sharing and genomic research. It said its collaboration with military researchers was for academic purposes only.

“BGI strongly rejects any accusations about links with the PLA, particularly in relation to our COVID-19 test kits,” it said in a statement.

China’s Defense Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

‘Enhance’ solider strength

Chinese technology companies have come under increasing scrutiny by the United States and were subject to mounting restrictions under the administration of Donald Trump. In November, the Department of Commerce proposed a rule to add gene editing software to the U.S. export control list, saying it could be used to create biological weapons. Officials in the new administration of President Joe Biden have signaled a continued tough approach to what they see as a rising threat from Beijing.

A technology industry panel on artificial intelligence, appointed by the U.S. government and chaired by former Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, raised the alarm in October about China’s financial support for its biotechnology sector, its advantages in collecting biological data, and the PLA’s interest in potential military applications.

The panel, which will deliver its final report in March, warned about adversaries using artificial intelligence to identify genetic weaknesses in a population and engineering pathogens to exploit them, and genetic research designed to enhance soldiers’ mental or physical strength.

The panel recommended that the U.S. government “take a more aggressive public posture regarding BGI,” citing national security risks posed by the company’s links to the Chinese government and its trove of genomic data.

The U.S. Department of State did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Reuters’ findings.

Soldiers of the People's Liberation Army march outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in September. | REUTERS Soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army march outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in September. | REUTERS

In response to questions, China’s Foreign Ministry said the U.S. government had “wantonly misinterpreted and smeared China’s military-civil fusion policy,” and was imposing unreasonable sanctions that would hamper research.

“China’s military-civil fusion policy is aimed at effectively mobilizing military and civilian resources, coordinating socio-economic growth and national defense development, and benefiting the public with scientific and technological progress. This policy is above board and beyond reproach,” the ministry said in a statement.

It added that this was “customary international practice” and said the U.S. government had effectively pursued military-civil fusion for more than 100 years.

‘Key projects’

BGI Group, based in Shenzhen, has grown quickly by selling genetic sequencing services to universities and health systems around the world and amassing a large DNA databank. It created China’s first cloned pig in 2010.

One science paper authored by BGI founders Yang Huanming and Wang Jian, along with the PLA’s Key Laboratory of High Altitude Medicine and the Third Military Medical University, focused on experiments with the brains of monkeys suffering altitude sickness.

The study, published in January 2020, stated that it was funded as one of the “key projects of military science and technology” by the PLA. A decade ago, the military university’s research sought to identify genes related to altitude sickness so the PLA could screen for susceptible soldiers. The latest research focused on how drugs interacting with genes could potentially protect a person from brain injury.

An earlier 2017 study designed by BGI’s Wang and published in conjunction with a PLA research center in Xinjiang looked at the effect of rapid mountain ascent on the bodies of “young, healthy men.”

China has the world’s longest highland border, which includes its border with India, where fighting broke out between the two countries’ troops in 2020. A 2018 paper by the same PLA laboratory stated that “high altitude disease is the main reason for reduced combat effectiveness and health damage to soldiers at high altitudes and influences the results of war.”

Reuters was unable to contact Yang and Wang. BGI said its research collaboration with the PLA lab and the Third Military Medical University, where Yang has been a professor for almost two decades, was “for academic purposes only.”

Sequencing COVID-19

BGI jointly holds a dozen patents for tests that screen for genomes linked to disease with the military university, the PLA’s Academy of Military Medical Science, which is the top medical research institute of the PLA, and PLA hospitals.

One patent was granted in 2015 to BGI and the Academy of Military Medical Science for a low-cost test kit to detect respiratory pathogens, including SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and coronaviruses.

BGI’s current chief infectious disease scientist, Chen Weijun, is listed as an inventor on the patent documents. Chen was among the first scientists to sequence COVID-19, taking samples from a military hospital in Wuhan, according to sequence data later shared internationally.

Chen is listed as affiliated with the Academy of Military Medical Science in three science papers reviewed by Reuters. In response to questions, BGI said in a statement that Chen has not been affiliated with the PLA’s Academy of Military Medical Science since 2012. Chen did not respond to a request for comment.

BGI’s COVID-19 test kit did not use the method jointly patented with the PLA, the company said in the statement.

Four BGI researchers have also been jointly affiliated with another military institution, the National University of Defence Technology (NUDT), according to publicly available science and conference papers reviewed by Reuters. Hunan-based NUDT is under the direct leadership of China’s Central Military Commission, the top-level body that steers the Chinese military and is headed by Xi.

The NUDT is on a U.S. blacklist as a threat to national security because its Tianhe-2 supercomputer — one of the world’s most powerful — is used to simulate nuclear explosions, according to a Department of Commerce listing. That listing restricts U.S. companies from supplying NUDT with technology.

A genetic testing laboratory of BGI in Kunming, Yunnan province, China | REUTERS A genetic testing laboratory of BGI in Kunming, Yunnan province, China | REUTERS

One researcher, Peng Shaoliang, was instrumental in developing software to speed up BGI’s sequencing of human genomes using supercomputing developed by NUDT.

Peng has won military awards for his work. He is a member of an expert group advising the Central Military Commission’s Science and Technology Commission, set up in 2016 when Xi began promoting a strategy to integrate China’s civilian and military research.

Patent applications in 2020 show Peng is also a member of the PLA’s Institute of Military Medicine. Liao Xiangke, the head of the NUDT’s supercomputer program and a major general in the PLA, has published seven scientific papers either co-authored with BGI researchers or crediting them for providing data and source code.

BGI said in a statement that Peng and Liao “were two collaborators of BGI for the project at the time for the purpose of academic exchange only. Since the project ended BGI has no more affiliation with them.”

Peng and Liao did not respond to requests for comment.

BGI said it uses Tianhe-2 on a commercial basis, as well as other supercomputing platforms, to speed up research. The papers it wrote with the NUDT were for academic purposes only, it said, and were open for public reference, while the programs themselves have ended.

Tianhe-2 has also been used to solve pharmaceutical, cryptology, engineering and climate problems that have no military application, the company said.

China’s gene giant harvests data from millions of women

A technician works at a genetic testing laboratory of BGI in Kunming, Yunnan province, China. | REUTERS

A Chinese gene company selling prenatal tests around the world developed them in collaboration with the country’s military and is using them to collect genetic data from millions of women for sweeping research on the traits of populations, a review of scientific papers and company statements found.

U.S. government advisers warned in March that a vast bank of genomic data that the company, BGI Group, is amassing and analyzing with artificial intelligence could give China a path to economic and military advantage. As science pinpoints new links between genes and human traits, access to the biggest, most diverse set of human genomes is a strategic edge. The technology could propel China to dominate global pharmaceuticals, and also potentially lead to genetically enhanced soldiers, or engineered pathogens to target the U.S. population or food supply, the advisers said.

Reuters has found that BGI’s prenatal test, one of the most popular in the world, is a source of genetic data for the company, which has worked with the Chinese military to improve “population quality” and on genetic research to combat hearing loss and altitude sickness in soldiers.

BGI says it stores and reanalyzes left-over blood samples and genetic data from the prenatal tests, sold in at least 52 countries to detect abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome in the fetus. The tests — branded NIFTY for “non-invasive fetal trisomY” — also capture genetic information about the mother, as well as personal details such as her country, height and weight, but not her name, BGI computer code shows.

So far, more than 8 million women have taken BGI’s prenatal tests globally. BGI has not said how many of the women took the test abroad, and said it only stores location data on women in mainland China.

The tests are a private procedure for the women who take them, a component in their routine prenatal care. But the studies show that they yield increasingly potent information for research.

One BGI study, for instance, used a military supercomputer to reanalyze NIFTY data and map the prevalence of viruses in Chinese women, look for indicators of mental illness in them, and single out Tibetan and Uyghur minorities to find links between their genes and their characteristics.

The scale of BGI’s accumulation of prenatal data, and its collaboration with the military in prenatal and neonatal research, have not been previously reported. The company has published at least a dozen joint studies on the tests with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) since 2010, trialing and improving the tests or analyzing the data they provided, the Reuters review found.

DNA data collected from prenatal tests on women outside China has also been stored in China’s government-funded gene database, one of the world’s largest, the company confirmed. BGI, in which the Shenzhen city government and Beijing’s largest state investment vehicle took stakes in 2014, runs that gene bank.

Reuters found no evidence that BGI violated patient privacy agreements or regulations. However, the privacy policy on the NIFTY test’s website says data collected can be shared when it is “directly relevant to national security or national defense security” in China.

Beijing made clear in a 2019 regulation that genetic data can be a national security matter, and since 2015 it has restricted foreign researchers from accessing gene data on Chinese people. In contrast, the United States and Britain give foreign researchers access to genetic data, as part of open science policies.

BGI said in a statement it “has never been asked to provide — nor provided — data from its NIFTY tests to Chinese authorities for national security or national defense security purposes.”

A BGI Group building in in Beijing | REUTERS

Other companies selling such prenatal tests also reuse data for research. But none operate on the scale of BGI, scientists and ethicists say, or have BGI’s links to a government or its track record  with a national military.

News BGI developed the prenatal tests with the PLA comes as international scrutiny is increasing over China’s use of civilian technology for military modernization. NATO has warned China’s assertive behavior is a systemic challenge, and Beijing has drawn sanctions for alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang and stepped up a national security crackdown in Hong Kong.

The findings offer new insight into how BGI is using vast computing power to unlock genomic secrets. Previously, Reuters revealed how the company rapidly expanded its gene-sequencing labs globally and gained a role in other nations’ health systems, and how it worked with China’s military on research ranging from mass testing for respiratory pathogens to brain science.

The Reuters examination also sheds new light on concerns expressed by a U.S. expert panel, the U.S. National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI), led by former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt. The panel said in March that the United States should recognize China’s strides toward global leadership in biotechnology and AI as a new kind of national security threat, and boost funding for its own research to counter China’s state-driven effort.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the reporting in this article reflected “groundless accusations and smears” of U.S. agencies. The PLA did not respond. China has released new privacy and data security laws that offer greater protection of personal data, but also allow Chinese national security authorities to access that data.

BGI did not respond to questions on its military collaboration or the national security threats that the United States says its research poses. “At no stage throughout the testing or research process does BGI have access to any identifiable personal data or the ability to match that data with personal records,” the company said. Signed consent is obtained in advance, BGI said, and its data privacy protocols meet strict international standards.

A 2016 Chinese regulation requires samples and genetic sequences from the tests on Chinese women to be kept for at least three years, after which the women can request that the data is deleted. For women overseas, BGI said it destroys samples and deletes paper records and electronic data after a maximum of five years.

Some of BGI’s research has medical benefits, and BGI has cut the cost of gene sequencing so more universities, companies and hospitals worldwide can access sequencing technology, a key driver in the growing field of genomics. Genetics is the study of individual genes; genomics looks at all of a person’s genes, including how they interact with each other and the environment.

“Whilst BGI is a Chinese-based company, we consider ourselves part of the global race toward ending the COVID-19 pandemic and a key international contributor to the advancement of public health outcomes around the world,” the company said, adding it collaborates with a large number of academic and research organizations not just in China, but also the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.

‘Go global’

BGI is one of about half a dozen major providers of the tests, more generally known as non-invasive prenatal tests (NIPT), which women take about 10 weeks into a pregnancy to capture DNA from the placenta in the woman’s bloodstream. Its tests are marketed in at least 13 European Union countries, including Germany, Spain and Denmark, as well as in Britain, Canada, Australia, Thailand, India and Pakistan. They are not sold in the United States.

However, the company is a pivotal player in a genomics race between China and the United States. In its latest annual report, it said it “has been working hard to promote Chinese technology, Chinese experience and Chinese standards to ‘go global.’”

BGI grew as a result of Chinese government policies, said Anna Puglisi, a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, who worked until 2020 as the U.S. government’s National Counterintelligence Officer for East Asia. “The Chinese state can really compel, in their national security law, companies to work with them,” she said, referring to a 2017 law requiring all Chinese organizations to assist national intelligence efforts.

Being able to understand how physical characteristics relate to a gene — and thus figuring out what genes actually do — “really is the cutting edge of genomics,” said Puglisi, who worked on biosecurity issues in the U.S. government.

“When you can combine large amounts of genomic data — including mothers and their unborn children — with their medical data and history, it is really powerful.”

The data offer insight into foreign populations as well as China’s own. Computer instructions that BGI uses to process the NIFTY data show it collects a wide range of information about customers besides their genetic code. This includes the women’s country, medical history and the sex of the fetus, according to the instructions, reviewed by Reuters on a programmers’ forum online.

Reuters reviewed more than 100 documents, from research papers to marketing materials, to determine the scope of data being captured by BGI through its prenatal tests, how it is using this in its research and its military collaboration. Reuters also interviewed more than two dozen scientists and experts in genetic law, including researchers who worked with the company, as well as four women, in Poland, Spain and Thailand, who took the tests.

The women, who signed consent forms stating that their genetic data would be stored and used for research, said they did not realize their genetic information could end up in China. For example, one of them, a 32-year-old office administrator in Poland, signed a BGI form agreeing to have her sample sent to Hong Kong and her genetic data retained, but the form did not say where it would be held, or make clear that BGI’s headquarters and research base are in Shenzhen.

Office building administrator Emilia, who has taken Chinese gene firm BGI Group's NIFTY prenatal test, in Warsaw | REUTERS

The woman, Emilia, spoke on the condition that only her first name be used. She said that if she had known that, and understood the extent of BGI’s secondary research, she would have chosen a different test.

“I want to know what is happening with such sensitive data about me, such as my genome and that of my child,” she said. “This could be a very important matter when choosing a test. For me it would be.”

It was also unclear to the other women where their data was stored.

The U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) said in response to this report that it had “serious concerns” over how genetic data is “collected, transmitted, stored and used” by China’s government and companies.

The NCSC, which issues public warnings on intelligence threats to the United States, has said China’s collection of health care data from America poses serious risks, not only to privacy, but also to U.S. economic and national security.

It urged health institutions to carefully assess risks associated with sharing such data with Chinese companies, and for patients to be told about the “value and sensitivity” of their genetic information — and the risks associated with turning it over. Women taking the NIFTY test outside China should be concerned about the privacy terms that allow data to be shared with Chinese national security agencies, the center said.

“Noninvasive prenatal testing kits marketed by Chinese biotech firms serve an important medical function, but they can also provide another mechanism for the People’s Republic of China and Chinese biotech companies to collect genetic and genomic data from around the globe,” the center said.

‘The millionome database’

Shenzhen-based BGI shot to global prominence last year after selling or donating millions of COVID-19 test kits and gene-sequencing labs outside China. U.S. security agencies warned this was part of an effort to collect large amounts of foreign genetic material. BGI said this year it has built 80 COVID-19 labs in 30 countries, which it plans to repurpose for reproductive health screening.

It says its COVID-19 tests do not collect patient DNA.

But its prenatal tests do.

Inside BGI’s offices in mainland China, huge screens update in real time as samples harvested from the tests of pregnant Chinese women are uploaded to the China National GeneBank, according to a scientist who has been inside the Shenzhen facility and photographs published in Chinese state media. The screens also show the location of the women.

BGI said the project — known as the “Chinese Millionome Database” — does not contain data of women outside mainland China.

However, online records show that the genetic data of at least 500 women who have taken the NIFTY test, including some outside China, are stored in the government-funded China National GeneBank.

The GeneBank website acknowledges the “NIFTY database” as among its “rich sources of biological data.”

BGI patented its tests in 2011 and began marketing them abroad in 2013. Within three years, more than 2,000 health care providers globally were selling them, according to BGI marketing materials. In 2019, the last full year before the COVID-19 pandemic, BGI reported that 42% of its sales of 2.8 billion yuan ($433.07 million) came from its reproductive health division. Prenatal tests are the major contributor.

Soldiers of the People's Liberation Army Marine Corps train at a military base in Bayingol, in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. | REUTERS

As gene sequencing technology has expanded worldwide, so has the scope of NIPT tests on offer. BGI’s now reveal 84 genetic conditions that affect the pregnancy of women under 40, and sex chromosome disorders that can cause learning delays.

The tests sequence about a tenth of the mother’s genome, said Dennis Lo, the Hong  Kong scientist who pioneered the technique independently in 1997.

“And  so  you can imagine if you got a tenth of the genome sequence and you pull it from millions of people — let’s say 10 million every year — I think that would be quite powerful.”

Lo said the technology would unlock patterns of genetic variations in populations around the world. NIPT tests can also show if the mother has any chromosome anomalies, cancer, an autoimmune disease, a recent organ transplant or blood transfusion, Lo said.

In the future, he said, it may be possible to reconstruct what a person looks like from an NIPT test.

Large genomic datasets can be used to design disease therapies, yet they also expose genetic vulnerabilities in a population; an adversary could exploit a susceptibility to disease in a targeted genetic attack, a report to the U.S. Director of National Intelligence by science and medical experts warned last year.

The report also raised privacy concerns, saying it had “been demonstrated that individuals can be identified from even a portion of their DNA.”

As BGI’s testing has grown, so has its secondary research. Two years ago, BGI researchers wrote in a scientific paper that they had reanalyzed 1.93 million NIPT tests processed in BGI labs between 2016 and 2017. They found 542 women with anomalies that could indicate cancer.

Those women, including customers in mainland China, Hong Kong, Slovenia, Spain and Taiwan, were then contacted for research purposes. Reuters found the women’s genetic data in the China National GeneBank, recorded under seven-digit sample identifiers.

The study said 41 of the women were diagnosed with cancer by their physicians, separately from the BGI research, which was published in Genetics in Medicine.

The study marked a massive mobilization of the genetic information in BGI’s possession. BGI marketing statements show the firm had processed 2.5 million NIPT tests in total by the end of 2017. That meant that during the period of the study, which encompassed nearly 2 million tests, it had reused most of the NIPT tests it processed.

Last year, BGI announced that it would “industrialize” genomics, and in April, it said a “million-scale” prototype robot, capable of sequencing a million whole genomes a year for population genomics, was now being used to process NIFTY tests.

‘Military medicine’

BGI has worked with Chinese military researchers to study the genomes of fetuses and newborns since at least 2010, when it signed a research cooperation agreement with the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing, a hospital document shows.

The hospital is at the forefront of Chinese genetic research on deafness, and its head of obstetrics, Lu Yanping, was developing a prenatal test for deafness and Down’s syndrome. In April 2011, Lu began a clinical trial of NIFTY with BGI on 3,000 women in the hospital clinic, a published study shows. Neither Lu nor the hospital responded to requests for comment.

In August 2010, BGI started work with another military institution, the Third Military Medical University in Chongqing. Liang Zhiqing, vice chairman of the PLA’s Institute of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and BGI researchers have published at least five joint studies based on data from women who took the test at the university’s prenatal clinic.

Liang’s work was funded by the Chinese government as a “Military Medicine Innovation Project,” and the samples were sequenced in a BGI “joint laboratory” at the university, according to a paper in the European Journal of Medical Genetics. Liang did not respond to a request for comment.

The university and BGI ran conferences on preventing birth defects and “improving population quality,” conference promotion shows. The PLA was closely involved in a foundation to prevent birth defects, led by a key figure in the implementation of China’s one child policy, from 2011.

A BGI executive was among the experts at its first meeting, which heard that “birth defects not only affect the health and quality of life of children, but also the quality of the country’s population and manpower.” A plan to promote screening for 48 genetic and metabolic diseases was approved.

BGI’s research with the PLA on the NIFTY test has continued. In 2019, Lu was credited by Chinese medical journals with detecting a single-gene disease — fetal achondroplasia, which causes dwarfism — through NIPT, in a clinical trial with BGI at the PLA General Hospital. BGI later released a new NIFTY single-gene test that detects the condition.

BGI researchers also conducted studies on novel NIPT methods in 2019 and 2020 with the military hospitals.

As well as prenatal research, BGI has collaborated with the military hospitals on genetic research programs designed to enhance soldiers’ performance.

The People's Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing | REUTERS

It worked with the PLA General Hospital to identify genes linked to hearing loss: The hospital uses stem cells and gene therapy in research on combating deafness in soldiers caused by weapons training, papers in military medical journals show.

And BGI published studies with the Third Military Medical University in Chongqing exploring whether drugs interacting with genes could protect Han Chinese, the country’s majority ethnic group, from brain injury at high altitudes. Those studies refer to soldiers stationed in Tibet and Xinjiang, high plateau regions which border India’s Ladakh, where fighting broke out last June.

‘An untapped resource’

For more than a decade, scientists worldwide have searched for a cost-effective way to study the genetic profiles of a whole population of people. A handful of efforts reached tens of thousands of participants, but anything larger stalled on cost and logistics, BGI researchers wrote in a 2018 scientific paper published in Cell.

Left-over samples and test data from prenatal tests meant BGI could run studies on an unprecedented scale.

In the Cell paper, BGI researchers said they had performed the largest study of Chinese population genetics ever — which they undertook with 141,000 re-used prenatal tests. The tests, they said, “provide an untapped resource” to understand how people’s genes relate to their characteristics, and to their susceptibility to viruses.

This, they said, could offer “considerable mapping power.”

The researchers were able to see genes associated with bipolar  disease, schizophrenia, immune response and resistance to malaria. They were able to link genes to height and percentage of body fat as well as to a diet high in animal fat.

And they were able to track viruses including hepatitis B — which they found to be relatively common among the Chinese population — and two types of herpes virus, which they said were more prevalent among Europeans. “We … reveal a different viral sequencing distribution spectrum compared to Europeans,” the researchers wrote.

A biology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Rasmus Nielsen, advised BGI researchers on how to extract information from the prenatal test data for the study.

“It’s amazing that this is even possible,” he told a Berkeley newsletter in 2018. “You can take these massive samples and do association-mapping to see what the genetic variants are that explain human traits.”

The researchers were also able to trace genetic distinctions between the country’s dominant Han Chinese ethnic group and minorities including Uyghurs and Tibetans, and look at population movements and intermarriage caused by Chinese government policy since 1949. This data was later released to other Chinese researchers studying how “significantly different” genetic variations in Uyghurs affected their response to drugs, a 2019 scientific paper shows.

China’s collection and analysis of the DNA of its Uyghur Muslim population — including systematic collections of samples from residents in Xinjiang — has drawn sharp criticism. The United States sanctioned two BGI subsidiaries last year for what it called China’s “abusive DNA collection and analysis schemes to repress its citizens.” BGI denied it was involved in any human rights abuses in Xinjiang. China’s foreign ministry said health check-ups of Uyghurs there did not collect biological information such as DNA.

UC Berkeley’s Nielsen said he no longer worked with BGI. He chose to end a decadelong collaboration soon after the 2018 study was published in Cell, because changes to Chinese law restricted foreign researchers working with Chinese genomic data, he said.

“Things are really changing in China,” Nielsen said. “Science used to be free.”

BGI: 21-Year Anniversary of the Completion of the Working Draft of Human Genome Sequence: The Past, Present and a Glimpse of Future

Human Genome Sequence: The Past, Present and a Glimpse of Future

Release date:2021/06/26 Views: 166

Part 1

21 Years Ago
The 20th century was the peak of human civilization in the 55 million years of its history.

The atomic bomb demonstrated the mighty power of the smallest element of our nature and told us how vulnerable the human world could be. The moon-landing pushed our frontier to a different planet and let us realize we are merely dust in the infinity of space. 

But there was a spark that empowered us. It revealed a new world as it fundamentally changed the way we recognize ourselves and every living thing on earth. It taught us to be humble as it explained that humans are not much different from plants, insects, or animals. It enlightened us as it unveiled our potentials hidden in millions of years of evolution. And it decoded the secret of life and guided us to happiness, immortality, and even eternity.

This is the Human Genome Project (HGP).

What is HGP?

So, what is a genome?

Everything about our physical selves is pre-determined by our genetic information – skin color, eye color, the softness of hair, etc. – is stored in our DNA. For any organism (including human beings), a genome consists of DNA and all genetic materials passed along from our biological parents and will pass to our children. To simply put, everything about a human being is written in genomes. 

To decode and read this “book of life”, the HGP was initiated. 

Logo of the Human Genome Project

From 1990 to 2003, over two thousand scientists and professionals of related disciplines from multiple universities and research institutes in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany, and China worked closely to explore the complete set of human genes and construct the results into the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome. Most importantly, they made all information accessible and open to all.

The International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium at the 5th Strategic Meeting, August 31, 1999, Hinxton, UK

Along with the Manhattan Project and Apollo Program, HGP was cited as the greatest scientific project in the 20th century.

Contribution from China

As the only developing country that participated in the project, China was committed to sequencing, assembly, and analysis part of the tip of the short arm of chromosome 3, which was then estimated to account for about 1% of the entire human genome. Thus, this project was called the “1% Project”, also known as the “Chinese Chapter of the Human Genome Sequence”, or the “Beijing Region” of the human genome because all the sequenced overlapping BAC (Bacterial Artificial Chromosome) clones are labeled “Beijing”.

It is hard to believe if it were not for the bold action of a bunch of enthusiastic young Chinese scientists, China would be left out from this groundbreaking international scientific collaboration in the last century – or the biggest one in human history ever since. While the mainstream Chinese scholars were still debating whether China should be part of the project, these proactive young men and women quietly started their work. They saved the spot for this ancient eastern Asian country in this global science endeavor on the new millennium.

The Chinese Human Genome Consortium (CHGC), a science organization created for HGP, was composed of 15 teams from the Northern Center of National Human Genome Center (Beijing), the Southern Center of National Human Genome Center (Shanghai), the Human Genomics Center of the Institute of Genetics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, as well as Xi’an Jiaotong University, Southeast China University, and other institutions.

And this ship would not sail without the effort of another institute – BGI. On 09:09:09 am, September 1999, BGI was established.

The commitment to the HGP means that China had to complete 500,000 successful Sanger sequencing reactions within six months between October 1999 and March 2000. With minimal budget, equipment, and workforce, the “1% Project” began almost from ground zero. 

In a poorly refurbished laboratory, these BGI scientists were racing against the clock using simple tools working on benches made with packing boxes. Everyone took terms to look after the running of sequencers. At night shift, they put two taborets together as a bed next to the sequencer and slept on it with their coats on for few hours, waiting for the sequencing result. 

BGI scientists work in the laboratory. The top sign read, “We may be poor, but we will never be defeated!” (1999)

Despite the less-than-optimal condition, all laboratorians received intensive and strict training and mastered all required skills for the sequencing task. They repeated the same sequencing procedure at least 13 times to check the accuracy of the data of merely 628Kb.

Finally, with the joint effort of all teams, the CHGC submitted 64 Mb (a million of base pairs) raw data for the human genome “draft sequence” before the announcement of the “Human Genome Draft Sequence” on 26 June 2000. CHGC also submitted 38 Mb data of high-quality “finished sequence” for the fine sequence paper on the human genome published on Nature in Oct 2004. The fine sequence of the human chromosome 3 was finally published in Nature in April 2006.

“And I’d also like to acknowledge the contributions not only that their (UK, Japan, Germany, France) scientists, but also scientists from China, made to the vast international consortium that is the Human Genome Project.” Joint by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair via satellite connection, the then-US President Bill Clinton paid his tribute to HGP scientists, including the Chinese scientists, in the White House on June 26, 2000. “The vigorous involvement of talented colleagues in other countries, now including China, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, have made this project particularly gratifying to me.”

The participation of Chinese scientists made HGP a true international collaboration accomplished by both developed and developing countries in human history. The action of Chinese scientists serves as a milestone for the Chinese science research to play an increasingly important role on the global stage as it is doing now.Part 2 Today
The butterfly effect of HGP has transcended through time and space, which significantly reshaped our lives in economy, research method, tool, field application, and more.

Impact on World Economy

HGP offered numerous new markets and business opportunities around the globe, and its impact on the world’s economy is unquantifiable. From 1988 to 2010, in the US alone, HGP created more than 3.8 million jobs across all 50 states, $793.3 billion total economic output, and $78.4 billion total tax revenue. For every $1 invested in the project, it has helped to generate $141 in return.

Impact on Research Methods

HGP enabled new research methods, which allows scientists to review human beings and other organisms from a new perspective for the first time. The discovery and cataloging of human genes provided a blueprint for human beings and transformed our understanding of human evolution. New disciplines such as proteomics are emerged based on the results of HGP which grant scientist new ways to explore the mechanism and explain the specific phenomenon of our discrete biological compartments from different angles. 

Today’s scientists cannot imagine conducting any biological-related research without the high-throughput sequencing technology developed by HGP. In 2008, Nature released the first complete genome sequence of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) samples. The researchers found eight new gene mutations in cancer cells by comparing them with samples of normal skin cells. This breakthrough study shows that genome sequencing can discover new gene mutations that may cause tumors, which traditional techniques may not find. This finding also provides a series of potential biological targets for future drug research. 

This study marks the beginning of cancer genome sequencing research. It sheds light on how genome sequencing technology can be used to study complex diseases such as cancer.

Impact on Development of Tools and Field Application

HGP drove the development of research and testing tools. The sophisticated computational and mathematical approaches brought by computer scientists, mathematicians, engineers, theoretical physicists, and biologists in HGP paved the way for better, faster, and more comprehensive research in biology.

Twenty-one years ago, with the cost of $3.8 billion, over 2,000 world’s brightest scientists spent 13 years sequencing a person’s complete genome. Today it takes only one machine in 24 hours for $500 to do the same job. 

Technicians operate an MGI DNBSEQ-T7 high-throughput sequencer which can output 1-6Tb of high-quality data per day.

The advancement of genetic technology has pushed the cost of sequencing to drop faster than “Moore’s Law”. This development led to countless discoveries in life sciences and the coverage of large-scale genetic screening for diseases and potential genetic risks that benefit tens of millions of people.
Imagine that shortly, the screening of major diseases (such as Down’s syndrome, deafness, cervical cancer, bowel cancer, etc.) will be as simple and affordable as a COVID-19 test. By then, the focus of our healthcare can be shifted from “precision treatment” to “precision prevention”, and ultimately achieve “precision health”.

And this is happening in China. With the policy and technical support, in 2012, the city of Tianjin initiated a genetic testing project for neonatal hereditary deafness. Genetic screening can detect congenital deafness and late-onset deafness early and provide patients with early diagnosis and treatment. 

Between 2012 and 2019, BGI provided tests for approximately 600,000 newborns in Tianjin, with a coverage rate of over 70%. Many of the newborns were saved from late-onset or drug-induced deafness. This project reduced the number of students in Tianjin School for the Deaf by 80%.

Impact on Research Pattern

HGP brought an all-new research pattern by presenting the power and necessity of integrating disciplines, or “big science”. It conveyed a clear message that biological and technological research efforts can be integrated to tangle complicated subject in biology.

Also, advanced sequencing technology offers data in a considerable quantity that no one has ever imagined before. A new “big-data-driven” research pattern is quietly revolutionizing the mainstream hypothesis-driven research pattern. Until now, most people, including scientists, are still in the process of understanding and accept the importance and far-reaching significance of this change.

Impact on Science Spirit

More importantly, the HGP has gifted the science world a precious legacy – the HGP Spirit of “Needed by All, Owned by All, Done by All, and Shared by All” proposed by the Chinese scientists and endorsed by the HGP community. This spirit has nurtured a culture of collaboration for later international cooperation and the future generation of scientists. The International HapMap Project, the International 1000 Genome Project, the International Cancer Genome Project, the Global BioGenome Project, and dozens of other internationally collaborative projects were guided by the HGP Spirit.

Part 3 The Next 21 Years
What does it look like in the next 21 years? Though there is yet to have a concrete answer to this question (or perhaps there will not be one), it will not hurt to make predictions from where we stand today.

Accessible genome sequencing will fundamentally change our social system. With the dropping price of personal genome sequencing, soon we will be able to sequence everyone and have it as an essential social service, like issuing a citizen ID. And this – sequencing all human beings – will become the biggest biological, social, and technical project in human history.

The data, or Personal Digital Genomes will be stored in a secured data center or bio-information center permanently as non-renewable precious biomedical information. Together with Digital Healthcare System and Digital Life System, we can manage our health and life condition throughout the whole life cycle. 

The creation and adoption of this project will change the current biomedical research, healthcare system and even changes the integration of medical insurance, social insurance, life insurance, pension, and nursing care.

With the data in hand, the scientific research will no longer take ten or one hundred people as samples, but 10,000 or one million. Also, medical research will not take disease diagnosis as the starting point but based on preclinical symptoms and health assessment.

Inspired by the HGP, scientists were set to explore a more prominent target – our planet earth. Together with BGI, scientists from multiple countries join to initiate the Earth BioGenome Project. Launched on November 1, 2018, this project aims to sequence and catalog the genomes of all of earth’s currently described eukaryotic species over ten years. 

With all the animals, plants, microorganisms, fungi, and people on the earth are sequenced, our knowledge of zoonotic diseases (such as SARS, hydatid disease, etc.), gene “drift” between plants and soil, and more will never be the same. Humans will be able to review ourselves in a broader spectrum and digitally connect with every organism to form the “Internet of Lives”.

HGP is the end of a beginning. It waged a conquest to the unknown and started a voyage to the promised land, where “our children’s children will know the term cancer only as a constellation of stars.”

“In coming years, doctors increasingly will be able to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes and cancer by attacking their genetic roots … In fact, it is now conceivable that our children’s children will know the term cancer only as a constellation of stars.”

– Bill Clinton, Draft of the Human Genome Sequence Announcement at the White House, June 26, 2000.


This is By Far, Best, Most Thoughtful Explanation For Why So Many Americans Believe 2020 Was a “Sham” 

This explanation brilliantly vindicates and validates every single American who has questions and doubts about the 2020 election. Beautifully done.
So, without further ado, here’s the best explanation you’ll ever read on why so many Americans believe the 2020 election was a sham:
I think I’ve had discussions w/enough Boomer-tier Trump supporters who believe the 2020 election was fraudulent to extract a general theory about their perspective. It is also the perspective of most of the people at the Capitol on 1/6, and probably even Trump himself.
Most believe some or all of the theories involving midnight ballots, voting machines, etc, but what you find when you talk to them is that, while they’ll defend those positions w/info they got from Hannity or Breitbart or whatever, they’re not particularly attached to them.

Here are the facts – actual, confirmed facts – that shape their perspective:

The FBI/etc spied on the 2016 Trump campaign using evidence manufactured by the Clinton campaign. We now know that all involved knew it was fake from Day 1 (see: Brennan’s July 2016 memo, etc).
These are Tea Party people. The types who give their kids a pocket Constitution for their birthday and have Founding Fathers memes in their bios. The intel community spying on a presidential campaign using fake evidence including forged documents is a big deal to them.
Everyone involved lied about their involvement as long as they could. We only learned the DNC paid for the manufactured evidence because of a court order. Comey denied on TV knowing the DNC paid for it, when we have emails from a year earlier proving that he knew.
This was true with everyone, from CIA Dir Brennan & Adam Schiff – who were on TV saying they’d seen clear evidence of collusion w/Russia, while admitting under oath behind closed doors that they hadn’t – all the way down the line. In the end we learned that it was ALL fake.
At first, many Trump people were worried there must be some collusion, because every media & intel agency wouldn’t make it up out of nothing. When it was clear that they had made it up, people expected a reckoning, and shed many illusions about their gov’t when it didn’t happen.
We know as fact:
a) The Steele dossier was the sole evidence used to justify spying on the Trump campaign,
b) The FBI knew the Steele dossier was a DNC op,
c) Steele’s source told the FBI the info was unserious,
d) they did not inform the court of any of this and kept spying.
Trump supporters know the collusion case front and back. They went from worrying the collusion must be real, to suspecting it might be fake, to realizing it was a scam, then watched as every institution – agencies, the press, Congress, academia – gaslit them for another year.
Worse, collusion was used to scare people away from working in the administration. They knew their entire lives would be investigated. Many quit because they were being bankrupted by legal fees. The DoJ, press, & gov’t destroyed lives and actively subverted an elected admin.
This is where people whose political identity was largely defined by a naive belief in what they learned in Civics class began to see the outline of a Regime that crossed all institutional boundaries. Because it had stepped out of the shadows to unite against an interloper.
GOP propaganda still has many of them thinking in terms of partisan binaries, but A LOT of Trump supporters see that the Regime is not partisan. They all know that the same institutions would have taken opposite sides if it was a Tulsi Gabbard vs Jeb Bush election.
It’s hard to describe to people on the left (who are used to thinking of gov’t as a conspiracy… Watergate, COINTELPRO, WMD, etc) how shocking & disillusioning this was for people who encourage their sons to enlist in the Army, and hate people who don’t stand for the Anthem.
They could have managed the shock if it only involved the government. But the behavior of the corporate press is really what radicalized them. They hate journalists more than they hate any politician or gov’t official, because they feel most betrayed by them.
The idea that the press is driven by ratings/sensationalism became untenable. If that were true, they’d be all over the Epstein story. The corporate press is the propaganda arm of the Regime they now see in outline. Nothing anyone says will ever make them unsee that, period.
This is profoundly disorienting. Many of them don’t know for certain whether ballots were faked in November 2020, but they know for absolute certain that the press, the FBI, etc would lie to them if there was. They have every reason to believe that, and it’s probably true.
They watched the press behave like animals for four years. Tens of millions of people will always see Kavanaugh as a gang rapist, based on nothing, because of CNN. And CNN seems proud of that. They led a lynch mob against a high school kid. They cheered on a summer of riots.
They always claimed the media had liberal bias, fine, whatever. They still thought the press would admit truth if they were cornered. Now they don’t. It’s a different thing to watch them invent stories whole cloth in order to destroy regular lives and spark mass violence.
Time Mag told us that during the 2020 riots, there were weekly conference calls involving, among others, leaders of the protests, the local officials who refused to stop them, and media people who framed them for political effect. In Ukraine we call that a color revolution.
Throughout the summer, Democrat governors took advantage of COVID to change voting procedures. It wasn’t just the mail-ins (they lowered signature matching standards, etc). After the collusion scam, the fake impeachment, Trump people expected shenanigans by now.
Re: “fake impeachment”, we now know that Trump’s request for Ukraine to cooperate w/the DOJ regarding Biden’s $ activities in Ukraine was in support of an active investigation being pursued by the FBI and Ukraine AG at the time, and so a completely legitimate request.
Then you get the Hunter laptop scandal. Big Tech ran a full-on censorship campaign against a major newspaper to protect a political candidate. Period. Everyone knows it, all of the Tech companies now admit it was a “mistake” – but, ya know, the election’s over, so who cares?
Goes w/o saying, but: If the NY Times had Don Jr’s laptop, full of pics of him smoking crack and engaging in group sex, lots of lurid family drama, emails describing direct corruption and backed up by the CEO of the company they were using, the NYT wouldn’t have been banned.
Think back: Stories about Trump being pissed on by Russian prostitutes and blackmailed by Putin were promoted as fact, and the only evidence was a document paid for by his opposition and disavowed by its source. The NY Post was banned for reporting on true information.
The reaction of Trump people to all this was not, “no fair!” That’s how they felt about Romney’s “binders of women” in 2012. This is different. Now they see, correctly, that every institution is captured by people who will use any means to exclude them from the political process.
And yet they showed up in record numbers to vote. He got 13m more votes than in 2016, 10m more than Clinton got! As election night dragged on, they allowed themselves some hope. But when the four critical swing states (and only those states) went dark at midnight, they knew.
Over the ensuing weeks, they got shuffled around by grifters and media scam artists selling them conspiracy theories. They latched onto one, then another increasingly absurd theory as they tried to put a concrete name on something very real.
Media & Tech did everything to make things worse. Everything about the election was strange – the changes to procedure, unprecedented mail-in voting, the delays, etc – but rather than admit that and make everything transparent, they banned discussion of it (even in DMs!).
Everyone knows that, just as Don Jr’s laptop would’ve been the story of the century, if everything about the election dispute was the same, except the parties were reversed, suspicions about the outcome would’ve been taken very seriously. See 2016 for proof.
Even the courts’ refusal of the case gets nowhere w/them, because of how the opposition embraced mass political violence. They’ll say, w/good reason: What judge will stick his neck out for Trump knowing he’ll be destroyed in the media as a violent mob burns down his house?
It’s a fact, according to Time Magazine, that mass riots were planned in cities across the country if Trump won. Sure, they were “protests”, but they were planned by the same people as during the summer, and everyone knows what it would have meant. Judges have families, too.
Forget the ballot conspiracies. It’s a fact that governors used COVID to unconstitutionally alter election procedures (the Constitution states that only legislatures can do so) to help Biden to make up for a massive enthusiasm gap by gaming the mail-in ballot system.
They knew it was unconstitutional, it’s right there in plain English. But they knew the cases wouldn’t see court until after the election. And what judge will toss millions of ballots because a governor broke the rules? The threat of mass riots wasn’t implied, it was direct.
a) The entrenched bureaucracy & security state subverted Trump from Day 1,
b) The press is part of the operation,
c) Election rules were changed,
d) Big Tech censors opposition,
e) Political violence is legitimized & encouraged,
f) Trump is banned from social media.
They were led down some rabbit holes, but they are absolutely right that their gov’t is monopolized by a Regime that believes they are beneath representation, and will observe no limits to keep them getting it.
Trump fans should be happy he lost; it might’ve kept him alive
— Read on

EXCLUSIVE! America’s Frontline Doctors Pediatric Director Fires Back at Pfizer CEO

The Stew Peters Show
JUNE 9, 2021

Dr. Angie Farella is the Pediatric Medical Director for America’s Frontline Doctors. She has been a pediatrician for 25 years, and has given over 10,000 vaccines to pediatric patients. This Covid injection however, is different. You may recognize her from her recent testimony in front of lawmakers where she reminded everyone that the Roto Virus vaccines were halted after 15 cases of reported adverse reactions, and the Swine Flu vaccines were halted after 25 deaths. The death toll from these covid injections is soaring into the tens of thousands, and doctors are still being silenced. Dr. Farella is blessed to advance medicine with America’s Frontline Doctors, which consists of a team of doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, pilots, investigative journalists, and warrior citizens to spread awareness and save as many lives as possible.


EXCLUSIVE! America’s Frontline Doctors Pediatric Director Fires Back at Pfizer CEO

EXCLUSIVE! America’s Frontline Doctors Pediatric Director Fires Back at Pfizer CEO
The Stew Peters Show
JUNE 9, 2021
— Read on

‘We’ll convert your children’: San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus delivers musical message to those who work against ‘gay agenda’ – TheBlaze

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus last week released a music video titled, “A Message From the Gay Community.” The video begins with one singer introducing the tune by saying, “As we celebrate Pride and progress we’ve made over these past years, there’s still work to be done. So to those of you out there who are still working against equal rights, we have a message for you.”

With that he begins to sing over a lone piano:

You think we’re sinful 
You fight against our rights 
You say we all lead lives you can’t respect 
But you’re just frightened 
You think that we’ll corrupt your kids 
If our agenda goes unchecked 
Funny, just this once, you’re correct

San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus takes down ‘we’ll convert your children’ music video after group says it received ‘threats of harm’ – TheBlaze

San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus takes down ‘we’ll convert your children’ music video after group says it received ‘threats of harm’
— Read on