BGI, the world’s largest genomics research institute, has signed a ground breaking agreement with the University of Birmingham today that will create the Joint Centre for Environmental Omics (JCEO) between the two institutions. The JCEO will seek to protect environment, health and global biodiversity by analysing the toxicity of compounds more efficiently than has been achieved before.
Located on the University’s Edgbaston campus, the JCEO will specialise in automated ultra-high-throughput sample processing in a facility jointly operated with the BGI China National GeneBank (CNGB). The Centre’s work will provide comprehensive and timely data on the effects of thousands of high priority chemicals, advanced materials and their mixtures on biological systems.
BGI, headquartered in Shenzhen, has more than 5,000 employees including over1,000 bioinformatics specialists who are working on solving the globe’s most pressing research questions and societal challenges.
Over 60,000 synthetic compounds are used by industry and found in domestic products across the world, for which there is a paucity of information on their potential environmental and health effects. This knowledge gap can be addressed by applying the rapid technological improvements in DNA sequencing and computing power that are transforming the possibilities for regulatory toxicology. These scientific advancements will be crucial to the work of the JCEO, which aims to reduce the uncertainty about compound health risks and help industry fulfil the requirements of European legislation, such as REACH and the Water Framework Directive.
John Colbourne, Professor of Environmental Genomics, University of Birmingham and Co-Director, JCEO, said: “Together, REACH and the Water Framework Directive can positively transform environment and human health protection, as long as science can provide robust and cost-effective toxicity tests to be used by industry, policy makers and regulators”.
Xin Zhou, Deputy Director, CNGB and Co-Director, JCEO added: “In collaboration with industry and government scientists, the JCEO will allow the European Union and beyond to ‘industrialise’ knowledge for advancing regulatory science and its applications that will, in turn, lead to a unique mass-scale predictive, quick and relatively inexpensive diagnoses of environmental health concerns”.
BGI will staff the JCEO with laboratory technicians and bioinformaticians, who will collaborate with University of Birmingham scientists and international partners on a variety of projects.
Dr Yong Zhang, Assistant President, BGI said: “Considering the scale of current environmental health problems, and realistic future projections, we are calling-out to researchers all over Europe and the UK to collaborate with the JCEO in response to these international research challenges, so as to maximize the growth of this shared knowledge”.
The signing took place earlier today between Professor Sir David Eastwood, Vice-Chancellor, University of Birmingham and Dr Yong Zhang, Assistant President, BGI in front of a gathered audience in the University’s Senate Chamber.
BGI was founded in 1999 with the mission of being a premier scientific partner to the global research community. The goal of BGI is to make leading-edge genomic science highly accessible through its investment in infrastructure that leverages the best available technology, economies of scale, and expert bioinformatics resources. BGI, which includes both private non-profit genomic research institutes and sequencing application commercial units, and its affiliates, BGI Americas, headquartered in Cambridge, MA, and BGI Europe, headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark, have established partnerships and collaborations with leading academic and government research institutions as well as global biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, supporting a variety of disease, agricultural, environmental, and related applications.
BGI has established a proven track record of excellence, delivering results with high efficiency and accuracy for innovative, high-profile research which has generated over 250 publications in top-tier journals such as Nature and Science. These accomplishments include sequencing one percent of the human genome for the International Human Genome Project, contributing 10 percent to the International Human HapMap Project, carrying out research to combat SARS and German deadly E. coli, playing a key role in the Sino-British Chicken Genome Project, and completing the sequence of the rice genome, the silkworm genome, the first Asian diploid genome, the potato genome, and, most recently, have sequenced the human Gut metagenome, and a significant proportion of the genomes for 1,000 genomes.