I am well past due to post on the New Yorker’s article about B.G.I. The article is by subscription only, and here I am citing the most interesting parts.
B.G.I., formerly called Beijing Genomics Institute, the world’s largest genetic-research center. With a hundred and seventy-eight machines to sequence the precise order of the billions of chemicals within a molecule of DNA, B.G.I. produces at least a quarter of the world’s genomic data—more than Harvard University, the National Institutes of Health, or any other scientific institution.
the company has already processed the genomes of fifty-seven thousand (57000) people. B.G.I. also has sequenced many strains of rice, the cucumber, the chickpea, the giant panda, the Arabian camel, the yak, a chicken, and forty types of silkworm.
The company was founded in 9/9/1999 at 9:19 am in Beijing, China. It has now 4000 employees of an average age of 26, is located in Shenzhen nearby to the infamous Foxconn factory, and operates on a $1.58-billion loan from the China Development Bank, including multiple nonprofit and commercial projects, such as DNA sequencing 10000 people from the families with autism in the US and a thousand of obese and healthy people in Denmark. The BGI’s plans include the Million Human Genome Project, the Million Plant and Animal Genomes Project, the Million Microecosystem Genomes Project, and the controversial Cognitive Genomics project, also millet (very drought-tolerant crop) and cassava projects, both holding a big promise for feeding China and Africa.
BGI is the biggest customer of Illumina, which has sold BGI 130 sequencers for half a million dollars each (my guess, that would be HiSeq 2000 and HiSeq 2500; the latest and the most powerful HiSeq X Ten, released in 2014, costs about a million). When in 2013 BGI bought the main Illumina’s competitor Complete Genomics, Jay Flatley, Illumina’s CEO, said: “It is one thing to sell Coke and another to sell the formula for Coke. … when they bought Complete Genomics … they were allowed to … buy the formula.”
The article concludes discussing the Cognitive Genomics project, which goals are to select intelligent high-IQ embryos, to find cure for Alzheimer’s and to map the brain: “At some point … people will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about [Chris Chang, a visiting scholar at BGI].”