Genetic engineering – have Chinese researchers analyzed data on pregnant women around the world?

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A Chinese genetic engineering institute is accused of having collected millions of data from women around the world. The institute defends itself against these allegations.

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A Chinese company is said to have collected data from millions of pregnant women and their fetuses worldwide.

imago images / Science Photo Library

Nonsense - says the genetic engineering company.  Data from women outside of China are not stored and the tests were not developed jointly with the military.

Nonsense – says the genetic engineering company. Data from women outside of China are not stored and the tests were not developed jointly with the military.

imago images/Science Photo Library

In the test developed by the company, the woman's fetus can be examined using a blood sample.  For example, Down syndrome.

In the test developed by the company, the woman’s fetus can be examined using a blood sample. For example, Down syndrome.

imago images/Science Photo Library

  • A gene institute is supposed to store genetic data from women and thus analyze population characteristics.

  • The company would get the data by means of a test to detect Down’s syndrome.

  • Far less is possible in genetic engineering than is assumed.

A Chinese genetic engineering company develops and sells prenatal tests for pregnant women. As the news agency Reuters writes, these tests were developed together with the military to collect data from millions of women around the world. In this way, specific characteristics of an entire population could be collated and researched.

The BGI (Beijing Genomic Institute) developed a non-invasive test that can be used to examine fetuses. The test is marketed as «Nifty», which translates as: «Non-Invasive Fetal TrisomY» – is a test to detect genetic deviations, such as Down syndrome, by means of a blood analysis of the mother.

Test not developed in collaboration with the military

Reuters also writes that BGI also uses these tests to store data about the mothers, such as their height, weight and origin. The BGI defends itself against this report and describes it as false. As «SRF» writes, the company assures in a statement that they adhere to international data protection regulations and that the test was not developed jointly with the military, but by the company itself. Data from women outside of China would not be included saved.

Less possible than is speculated

The Reuters report and the BGI also contradict each other with regard to data protection regulations. The news agency writes that the test’s privacy policy states that the information it contains can be passed on to the authorities – should it be relevant to national security. In what relationship and how closely the BGI and the military actually work together cannot be said.

In addition, there is hardly any data from abroad because many countries have stricter laws on data protection than China. In Switzerland, for example, laboratories are not allowed to transfer data abroad without reporting this, says business editor Cathrin Caprez from SRF.

As Caprez goes on to say, these days, however, far less is possible than what one reads over and over again. For example, it has only been possible to establish a real connection between individual genes and physical characteristics in only a few cases – for example, which gene is responsible for blue eyes or hair color.

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