Technicians at BGI’s headquarters in Shenzhen,
China, prepare blood samples.


Mass Production for Genomics

Sequencing a complete human genome may soon cost less than an iPhone. Will China’s BGI-Shenzhen decode yours?

By Christina Larson on February 11, 2013

When he was 17 years old, Zhao Bowen dropped out of Beijing’s most prestigious high school. Like many restless young people in China, he headed south to Shenzhen, the country’s factory capital, for a job. As a teenage science prodigy, however, he wasn’t bound for an assembly-line floor; instead, he was on his way to the world’s largest production center for DNA data. Now, a few years later, in a retrofitted shoe factory that is the headquarters of BGI-Shenzhen, the 21-year-old is orchestrating an effort to decipher the genetic makeup of some 2,000 people—more than 12 trillion DNA bases in all.

BGI-Shenzhen, once known as the Beijing Genomics Institute, has burst from relative obscurity to become the world’s most prolific sequencer of human, plant, and animal DNA. In 2010, with the aid of a $1.58 billion line of credit from China Development Bank, BGI purchased 128 state-of-the-art DNA sequencing machines for about $500,000 apiece. It now owns 156 sequencers from several manufacturers and accounts for some 10 to 20 percent of all DNA data produced globally. So far, it claims to have completely sequenced some 50,000 human genomes—far more than any other group.

Read more: Mass Production for Genomics | MIT Technology Review.

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