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China makes 1st volunteer genome atlas
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The Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) has sequenced the first Chinese volunteer's genome as part of a project to create a database of Asian genomes.

The Yanhuang Project, named after two legendary ancient emperors who are believed to be the ancestors of the Han ethnic group, will map the genomes of 100 Chinese people, said Dr. Wang Jian, director of BGI's Shenzhen branch, on Saturday.

"We finished the sequencing of the first Han Chinese genome last October," said Wang, "but the genome is from a researcher."

"We hope that the rest of the 100 people will be volunteers who want to have their genomes sequenced for purely scientific purposes," he said.

The first volunteer, who wanted to remain anonymous, donated 10 million yuan (about 1.3 million U.S. dollars) to the project along with his blood sample for sequencing.

"I believe more breakthroughs will be made in bio-tech and bio-pharmacy industries by sequencing and studying more Chinese genomes," the donor said. So far, only three individuals' genomes have been sequenced anywhere in the world and all of them were scientists.

Wang said the project is the Asian section of a comparative genomics project jointly conducted by Chinese and British scientists, which aims to create genome databases for various races from different continents.

He said that the Yanhuang Project has three phases. The first, which was completed last October, is to sequence a Chinese individual's genome that will serve as the reference. The second is to sequence at least 99 more individuals' genomes to construct a Chinese genetic polymorphism map. The final stage is to study the results of the first two phases and apply the findings to medical science.

"We need to establish the database of Chinese people's genomes in order to solve the problems related to Chinese-specific genetic diseases," said Wang. "It will also give us solid ground for future individual health care in terms of accurate and effective diagnosis, prediction and therapy."

"Personal genomics" became a new industry last year. Some companies in the United States plan to provide personal genome sequencing for a fee of 300,000 to 350,000 U.S. dollars, the American journal Science reported in December. Those companies say that having complete genome maps will help people understand their chances of developing genetically based diseases and act to control and prevent such diseases.

However, this practice is expected to bring ethical challenges since such genetic data can reveal personal information that many might prefer to keep private.

(Xinhua News Agency January 7, 2008)

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