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China opens first national gene bank, aiming to house hundreds of millions of samples

China’s first national gene bank, claimed to be the largest of its kind in the world, officially opened on Thursday to store and carry out research on hundreds of millions of genetic samples.

The centre, dubbed China Noah’s Ark by mainland media, aims to collect 300 million genetic samples at its base in Shenzhen when all phases are complete.

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The national gene bank is the fourth of its kind to open around the world following similar centres in the United States, Britain and Japan, the People’s Daily reported.

“We hope to make the gene bank China’s, and even the world’s, biggest biological information data centre, like Google but in the field of life and health data,” Mei Yonghong, the director of the centre, was quoted as saying.

The site now has 10 million gene samples and will include a biological database, samples of some living organisms, plus a genome editing platform, the state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

It is the largest gene bank of its kind in the world, with a library of animal, plant, microorganism and human body cell samples, according to the report.

Genetic information stored includes a cancer database with 3,000 samples, information on 50,000 genome mutations and a database on birth defects.

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The data now stored in Shenzhen was previously housed at the National Centre for Biotechnology Information in the US, the European Bioinformatics Institute in the UK and the DNA Data Bank of Japan.

The new gene bank has dozens of refrigerators that can store samples at up to minus 200 degrees Celsius, Xinhua said.

The gene bank was approved by four central government agencies and supported by the Beijing Genomics Institute.