A new type of Chinese factory

Ever heard of BGI? The Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) is, according to Nature, China’s premier genome-sequencing institute. Using the formula for goods, BGI uses a cheap (and increasingly qualified) workforce, coupled with high-end imported equipment. The value proposition? Work twice as fast and for half the price.

While China has become the world’s factory for pretty much everything, BGI intends to create a genomic tree of life covering the major evolutionary branches of plants, animals and humans. After having sequenced the genome of indica rice, cucumber, chicken, silkworm and of the giant panda, the institute is now looking into other big cats (lion, tiger and leopard). Besides these noble scientific endavours, it also works on identifying genes critical in the development of cancers.

Genomic sequencing remains a capital intensive business and governments may not share (or fund) BGI’s ambition to sequence everything. In the long-run, the survival of BGI will depend on how much firms (e.g. pharmas) and research centers will be willing to outsource their genomic sequencing. If BGI’s business model prevails, watch out for genomes turning into commodities.