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BGI, University of Birmingham Create UK Environmental Omics Centre

Published: Tuesday, July 08, 2014
Last Updated: Tuesday, July 08, 2014
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The Centre will seek to protect environment, health and global biodiversity by analysing the toxicity of compounds more efficiently than has been achieved before.

BGI has signed a ground-breaking agreement with the University of Birmingham that will create the Joint Centre for Environmental Omics (JCEO) between the two institutions. 

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, based in Shenzhen, has more than 5,000 employees including over more than 1,000 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. The 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 scientists at the University of Birmingham 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 international research challenges, so as to maximize the growth of this shared knowledge”.

The signing took place 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 on Thursday 3 July.

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