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Genomes for science, genomes for life, and genomes for you and me

Ghent, Belgium, Copenhagen, Denmark, and Shenzhen, China -- ICG Europe 2013, co-organized by BGI and VIB, was successfully concluded on June 28 in Ghent, Belgium presenting numerous recent advances on genomics and its growing applications. A broader spectrum of genomics topics have been discussed in greater depth, particularly focusing on personalized and public healthcare, biomedical research, plant and animal genomics, and metagenomics.

ICG Europe 2013, attended by more than 300 participants, included presentations from global industry thought leaders, prominent researchers and top policy makers. The conference kicked off with warm opening speeches delivered by Professor Em. Marc Van Montagu, Plant scientist from Ghent University and Scientific advisor of VIB, and Professor Huanming Yang, Chairman of BGI.

The world is developing rapidly, but "for the first time in history more than 1 billon people go to bed hungry each night" once said by Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank on 20 September, 2010. It is an enormous responsibility of what science would do to improve the world. However, the progress of life science is based upon the correctness of scientific findings. The misinformation is dangerous for health, environment, and the society. In Professor Montagu's report, he discussed science, technology and their social acceptance, and emphasized the importance of the correctness of scientific findings.

Professor Huanming Yang said, "Science is needed by all, done by all, and shared by all. The aim of ICG is to create a venue where researchers from around the world can reflect on progress made in the scientific study of Omics. We should jointly promote global genomics research in a spirit of collaboration." He also presented the concept of "HELPCESS" for science and humanity. HELPCESS stands for "Humanity, Ethical, Legal, Public Relationship, Cultural (Religious), economic, Safety/Security, Social".

From Bench to Bedside: Disease Genomics

How to apply genomics technologies to advance clinical applications becomes the key for researchers and clinicians to quickly and efficiently solve patients' disease problems. The conference brought researchers together for frank and vital discussion of the questions, solutions and applications on disease genomics and its applications.

Professor Jun Wang, Director of BGI, provided a summary on BGI's genetic studies of Autism Spectrum Disorder, the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States, or event the whole world. In late 2011, BGI and Autism Speaks jointly launched the Autism Genome 10K Project, which involves fifty institutions from 19 countries. In Phase one, 200 autistic children and their parents - were now sequenced 99 Canadian family members. Sequencing of 2,800 families (Phase 2) and 7000 families (phase 3) were in the pipeline. Wang said, "We expect our research can advance new effective treatments to improve the lives of individuals and families with autism."

Schizophrenia is a multifactorial disorder with a major genetic component that is highly polygenic. Dr. Anders D. Brglum from Aarhus University reported his genome-wide study of association and gene-environment interaction in Schizophrenia. Dr. Lars Bullinger from University Hospital of Ulm, delivered a talk themed "Genomics in Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) Clinical Translation of Findings" provided a case-in-point on translating research to application.

Previously, the molecular test would have been the final step in the diagnostic journey. "All this will now change." stated by Dr. Han G. Brunner from Radboud University Medical Center Nijmegen. He shared his experiences and lessons from an exploratory study on 500 patients with numerous different disease problems. The molecular test based on exome sequencing will help to greatly reduce doctor's delay, unnecessary invasive, costly and burdensome procedures, and allowing a prognosis and care pathway to be charted. "Since collectively, rare diseases are not rare, exome sequencing will soon move to the front end of the diagnostic process."

The applications of massively parallel sequencing (MPS) technology to fetal cell-free DNA have brought new insight into noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT). Dr. Wei Wang, Director of BGI Health, one of BGI's affiliates, introduced their progress of clinical practice using NIPT. Wang's team recruited 11,105 Chinese volunteers for their NIPT test, and the results show that NIPT test is of high sensitivity and specificity in detecting fetal T21, T18 and T13. "NIPT has a huge prtentiality to be integrated into prenatal screening-diagnosis workflow." said Wang.

From the Laboratory to the Farmland: Agricultural Genomics

The discovery of DNA has an important effect on agriculture because it has allowed breeders to facilitate the breeding of economic crops and animals that have a better resistance to against harsh environment and diseases. Major efforts are underway worldwide to help extricate vulnerable dryland communities out of poverty and hunger, particularly those in the under-developed countries and regions.

Wheat is a globally important crop due to its enhanced adaptability to a wide range of climates and improved grain quality for the production of baker's flour. In the conference, Dr. Michael Bevan from John Innes Centre, U.K., described their progress in sequencing and understanding the fascinating and complex genome of bread wheat, and in assessing how the genome has been shaped by polyploidization. The extremely large size and polyploid complexity of the wheat genome has to date been a substantial barrier for researchers to gain insight into its biology and evolution.

From scientists to the public: Consumer Genomics

Consumer genomics is certainly a hot topic, but what does it mean for the end users - you and me? Genetic testing holds much promise for understanding a person's risk for certain diseases, but are we ready? In the conference, Dr. Lone Frank from Weekendavisen, Denmark, Dr. Manuel Corpas from The Genome Analysis Centre, UK, and Professor Huanming Yang shared their respective comments on this trending topic.

"Consumer genomics is biology's parallel to the computer revolution." Dr. Frank said. At this point in time people are only seeing the good advantages of genetic testing, and while they may still not be aware of potential problems. Many of people want to test because they want to find out who they are, and they think genetic testing can drastically reduce the incidence of genetic diseases, and may very well eliminate many of them. However, genetic testing does open the door to a new realm of ethical questions, although it was largely unnoticed before the appearance of genetic tests for the masses.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act has already been passed in the Americas since 2008, which was designed to prohibit the use of genetic information in health insurance and employment. It has been regarded as the third milestone in humanity after race and gender nondiscrimination. However, Professor Huanming Yang once told a story in his presentation about the genetic information used for employment discrimination in China. In 2010, a candidate was disqualified in his civil service examination for he is a healthy carrier of a gene for sickle-cell disease or thalassaemia. The case show that it is very necessary to raise the banner of Science and Humanity all over the world.

Dr. Manuel Corpas illustrated his point by narrating a case on the experiences of himself and his family. He thought it was very interesting to know more about himself and his family by genetic testing. The intelligent exploration, experimentation and trial to push the boundaries of knowledge are the right for ordinary people; What attitude a person has towards personal genome privacy, it should be utterly respected. He emphasized that sharing can be more useful than keeping data to oneself.

This three-day world-class conference came to a close with loud applauses. As one of the world's largest genomics organizations, BGI has held International Conference on Genomics (ICG) annually in China since 2006. It is an annual dynamic, interactive forum held by BGI to interact directly with other genomics industry luminaries, scientific thought leaders, senior-level decision makers, top pharmaceutical executives, and influential policy makers. BGI will continue to hold its second International Conference on Genomics in the Americas (ICG Americas 2013) on September 12-13, 2013 in Sacramento, CA, and to organize its 8th International Conference on Genomics (ICG-8) on October 30-November 1, 2013 in Shenzhen, China. See more information, please visit:


Contact: Jia Liu
BGI Shenzhen

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