‘DNA-harvesting’ Chinese firm supplies Covid-19 testing for UK

·2 min read
uighur repression - Emrah Gurel /AFP
uighur repression - Emrah Gurel /AFP

Britain’s security agencies have been urged to investigate one of the UK’s testing suppliers after its Chinese parent company was accused of attempting to collect and store the DNA of American citizens and aiding the brutal repression of Uighur Muslims.

BGI, a Chinese genomics firm, was last year accused by US intelligence officials of attempting to use DNA collected in Covid testing labs for genetic research.

A US Trade Office report named the company as having “evident links” to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and two of it subsidiaries were placed on a trade blacklist for “conducting genetic analyses used to further the repression of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities” in the Xinjiang province.

The Telegraph can reveal that a subsidiary of BGI is providing equipment and chemicals for Covid-19 testing in the UK.

Through its subsidiary MGI Tech, the company claims to provide PCR testing equipment in the UK.

The equipment is used to “support the prevention and control of the epidemic in the United Kingdom and to assist relevant local organizations to improve the efficiency of Covid-19 nucleic acid testing,” the company said.

MGI equipment has also been sold to private companies with PCR testing facilities in the UK, including one operating walk-in centres in London, and to a testing project run jointly between the NHS and Francis Crick Institute.

The parent company, BGI, jointly operates the “China National GeneBank” in Shenzhen, a facility that “preserves genetic resources, such as those of plants, animals, micro-organisms, and human beings”.

US security officials fear BGI is used by the Chinese Government to collect DNA, which is then analysed and stored.

Bill Evanina, a former head of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said officials were suspicious of the “nefarious mindset of the Communist Party of China” and thought the country was trying to exploit the Covid pandemic to learn more about US citizens and their health.

MGI, the subsidiary, is not accused of collecting or misusing any genetic data.

Dr Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society think tank, said: “Concerns have repeatedly been raised over the past year about the relationships between Chinese companies and the Chinese state, and whether data obtained by the former can be accessed by the latter.

“Given the growing importance of biodata to national as well as personal health, the Government needs to conduct a full security assessment of this partnership to ascertain whether it could be exploited.”

A spokesman for BGI said the company has no access to patient data in the UK.

The spokesman added: “BGI has never been involved in the collection, storage or analysis of personal genetic information with the potential for or the purpose of violating human rights.”

A Department of Health spokesman said the Government has never held direct contracts with BGI but the company does supply reagents for Covid testing.

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