HomeArticlesHow DNA dreams become reality at BGI in China – Docu
How DNA dreams become reality at BGI in China – Docu
October 15, 2019
The content of this bottle
is worth more… than all of the world’s
oil, gold and diamonds. The English call this substance DNA. The French call it l’ADN. And chemists call it
deoxyribonucleic acid. Some see it as a lifeless,
chemical substance… while others see it
as living matter. All the secrets of life
are hidden in this substance. This bottle is somewhat like
Pandora’s box. It’s better to keep it closed,
and we’ll explain to you why. We have initiated
a historic project. We’re going to sequence
more vegetables, 100 tomatoes… and at least 10,000
cultivars of rice. We have initiated the sequencing
of 250 small families… with parents and one kid. We have initiated
the sequencing of 5000 twins. We’re going to sequence
1 million Chinese… in order to know more
about their genomes. I don’t know
how many years it will take… but we expect that the genes
will tell us the answers. I have a dream… that we’re going to sequence
every living thing on earth. That we’re going to sequence
everybody in the world. And genomics, no doubt,
is an opportunity for us all. Welcome, everyone, to BGI. Leave your cameras,
then you can see the machines. We have twenty
HiSeq 2000’s here. And 70 or 90 at BGI Hong Kong. We’ve got a total of 137. 98% of BGI’s employees
were born after 1980. Young people are
trained quickly at BGI. 17-year-old Zhao Bowen investigates
the relation of DNA and IQ with his team. At this young age, he’s already
in charge of important projects. I’m responsible
for three different projects. One of them is still
in the concept stage at this time. The first project
is rather well known. Research into the genetic basis of
cognitive skills, also known as IQ. A major project that also involves
foreigners such as Chris and Steve. Thank you very much. Goodbye.
-Goodbye. People often ask me why
I’m doing this project. I want people to have a better
understanding of IQ. I want them to start looking at IQ in
the same way as length, for example. 7-9-4-2-9-5-8-3-2-1-5. 7-6-2-5-9-7-8-3-2-1-5. 2-4-3-8-9-2-5-4-6-1-8. 2-4-3-8…9-3-5-4-2-1-8. Try this one, as fast as you can. Very good. And now this one. Go ahead. Done? Very good. These blood samples
are from candidates… of the Beijing Mathematics Team. Those are very young kids,
between 12 and 16 years old. There’s about 60 kids. We gave them
detailed IQ tests, one by one. We’ll need at least one thousand
from inside mainland China. So there’s a long way to go,
but it’s speeding up now. I am confident to say that our project
is the biggest of all of this kind. That’s it, we’re done. A smart boy.
He’s twelve, not even. Hello, Ma Ge. We’ll have the results next week. We asked the boy to participate
in our IQ study and he agreed. He should be in the regular group,
not the genius group. Wait for the results first.
-He qualified for the regular group. It’s exciting, not because
we know what we’ll find. It’s because we don’t know
what we’ll find. It’s like mining, we call it mining. We actually find something,
mining inside the data. It’s hard for you to imagine
how huge the amount of data is. Because it’s just so
gigantic, you know. Capacity for DNA sequencing
is not a problem here. We can sequence
2000 DNA samples in a day. The biggest problem is
collecting the blood samples. We need 2000 samples… but we only have a few hundred. In Beijing there are about
80,000 students each year. But only 70 of them have an IQ
between 130 and 150. If we can get a third of those… that would be great,
but far less than we need. I’m going to have dinner. Number four, introduce yourself. I’m Wang Dean. I come from
Xiao Gang, in Hubei province. I’m a doctor and sonographer
at Yangang Hospital. You have to help me a little, ladies. As you see, I’m rather shy.
-That’s obvious. I think he’s very funny. I’d like to keep him here. He has a sense of humour.
I think he’s cute. Let’s look at his cute profile. The machine will show us a diagram. With the aid of this computer
I can look at the patient’s organs. I have a question
about the ultrasound machine. We’re not here
to talk about the machine. Aren’t those ultrasounds
harmful for a man’s sperm quality? I know him well.
He works in the office next to mine. That way you can keep an eye
on the competition. I’m speechless, folks. Number eleven?
-I consider him a good friend. But he’s not my type, unfortunately. I’m looking for a confident, smart man
who really has a future to offer me. Okay.
-But I do. I’m still at the office. Can you send me your details? Text message or email,
either way is fine. No problem, either is fine. Alright, then I’ll get back to you. No problem, we’ll talk about that
some other time. It was done
according to the example. Send me everything you have,
I have to hand it in before midnight. That means I have to find Huanming
before 23.30. I only have one hour left. I occupy myself with the developments
in clone technology. I’m in charge of a team of 23 people
in the cloning technology department. We usually work more
than ten hours a day. If you work with embryos,
they determine your schedule. I don’t think I am
very smart. Years ago I did a little IQ test,
out of curiosity. The result was rather disappointing. So I just have to work harder. At BGI I came into contact
with extremely brilliant people. I learn a lot from them. I see that you processed
32 embryos in 40 minutes. That’s very fast. Did you see the stem cell?
After cutting? What did it look like? I didn’t really look closely. Next time, examine it closely
and find out what’s wrong with it. When the somatic cells
are not okay… it may be due to the cytoplasm. Maybe something went wrong
with the selection of the somatic cells. The company that grew out
of the clone department… is called BGI Ark Biotechnology. We’ll be cloning all kinds of animals,
hence that name, like Noah’s Ark. Our company will work
on the preservation and cloning… of different animal species. Our company
is an example of how BGI… translates scientific research
into commercial applications. The advantage of China is that the
regulations in this field are relaxed. China’s attitude towards science
is open. They take the uterus out
and make a small hole in the core… and then inject the blastocysts inside. Genetically designed blastocysts?
-Yes. Hopefully the sow will get pregnant. And you say they are doing
two a day? Normally they do three transfers a day.
-Three recipients? Yes. In Denmark, we do perhaps
twelve transfers in a whole year. You do that in four days.
-Yes. You’re better than nature.
The success rate is really impressive. So these are our new stables. So when will this be ready for use? In one week
-In one week? That’s what we call Shenzhen speed.
We do everything very fast. Here we only do the pig cloning. We have planned another cattle
cloning lab in Shandong province. And some people are working
on sheep cloning in Xingjiang province. What’s the similarity
between salt and water? Both are things
that humans need. What’s the similarity
between rubber and paper? Both are industrial products
and both are flexible materials. Can you be more specific? These are tough questions. That way we can find out
what your potential is. We can’t do that if the
questions are too easy. Then everyone knows the answers
and the test will be useless. We make it increasingly more
difficult. Shall we continue? Don’t make it too sweet.
-Just a little, for the meat. My computer has broken down. What happened to it?
-It burned from overheating. I kept it on too long.
Suddenly the screen went black. And our memory card
was stolen by a migrant worker. How would you feel
if I were to go back to America? Why?
-To continue my PhD study. I would respect your decision. You’re being very democratic today.
-That’s how I feel about it. But can’t you stay here a bit longer
before you go back for further study? I was thinking… of going next semester. Next semester?
-Yes. Isn’t that a bit too soon? I actually contacted Brown University
about it a month ago already. You studied in America, while you’d
also been accepted in Beijing. We found it hard to accept,
but you insisted on going abroad. And we respected your wish. So why don’t you do so now?
-But we do. Of course we do. But I don’t like you trying
to influence my decision. Everyone has moments
of weakness. Either support me or leave me alone,
but don’t try to stop me. I lie in bed crying at night.
It is very difficult for me. But I can’t stay at home
like your dog. We respect that.
-And Grandpa as well. He keeps saying he wants me
to be here when he dies. To be honest,
I don’t like this at all. I’ve told you so often, your family
is there to give you advice. Family opinions may help you,
but it’s up to you to decide. You’re not the type of girl that
will do anything because we say so. So don’t be so… We give our opinion, but that doesn’t
mean we don’t respect yours. It is generally assumed… that intelligence is hereditary. Scientists such as Robert Plomin
have been studying this for years. But so far they’ve only discovered
one percent of that genetic basis. With confidence we can say that
we’ll be able to get much further. There are two objections
to the IQ project. First of all, that this research
will lead to discrimination. But discrimination has historical,
social and psychological causes. You cannot change those
by means of scientific research. A second concern is that our research
will make it possible to manipulate IQ. But that possibility
is extremely limited. Human IQ is a very
complex mechanism. It involves many different genes. But people ought to be free
to manipulate their children’s IQ. It’s their own choice. Everyone at Bio Ark
has had their own cells preserved. We’re preserving our cells
now that we’re young and healthy. You can still see the scar. About 5 mm in diameter. We think that the preservation
of young, healthy cells… will benefit us when we’re older.
You never know. These have genetic designs
to improve the meat quality? Yes. These pigs are enjoying
the sunshine. This is the mother of the piglets,
though not the biological mother. She’s the surrogate mother
who gave birth to these babies. These are the pigs that have been
designed to have diabetes, right? Yes, type 2 diabetes. They’re really in competition
for the breast. We will also make green ones. So they are green fluorescent
when we shine light on them. Then we can see
which are the cells we’ve added… and which cells are from the animal itself. You can see the yellow feet,
even without the UV light. These also have a reduced size, right?
-Yes. So it’s genetically designed in two ways? So the goal is to get a pig
that’s as small as a rat? Yes, that is our final goal. So that all the laboratories
can afford to have this pig… and it will be much easier
to use pigs as laboratory animals. It’s scared of me. Does it eat hay? It’s finally allowed outside
and prefers to eat the natural way. They’re like babies. They’re really like babies. I still remember the first time I saw
the embryos under my microscope. And then, after four months,
these embryos had become pigs. I thought: These pigs used to be
the embryos under my microscope. And I made these embryos.
I was so excited about that. Why? It’s really like being a mom. This is life that I created. It was made by my hands. In theory you should be able
to clone humans. Because humans are not different
from other mammals in that respect. But our society is not ready
to accept artificially cloned people. Unless there’s a market for it,
I guess? Of course there are always people
who contact us… and say they are so valuable
they want to be cloned. But I think this is a perfect reason for
saying they are not suitable for cloning. If they’re that stupid,
they definitely should not be cloned. I have a wish: I hope my project
will contribute to a better society. We’re doing positive work
that deserves to be recognised. We’re uncovering human diversity
and its underlying causes. We’re doing this to find out more
about IQ, not in order to manipulate it. Science is neutral.
It’s not like art. If we don’t do this research,
someone else will eventually. I have a dream. We have a dream… that we’re going to sequence
every living thing on earth. We’re going to sequence
everybody in the world. May I ask you something? What’s the significance
of this new research institute? Denmark will be a European research
hub, owing to these Chinese investors. It will create new jobs in Denmark,
so I’m very enthusiastic about it. What about the culture gap
between the Chinese and Danes? The slow, analytical, melancholic
Scandinavians versus the fast Chinese? Isn’t that an unlikely match?
-On the contrary, they go well together. We’ll be able to combine
the best of both worlds. What unites us is pragmatism.