BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The Chinese government intends to spend CNY7 million (US$845,000) over the next four years to extend its study on the structure and function of the human genome. International Human Genome Project member Li Pu, director of the genetic laboratory at China's Harbin Medical University, said he believes valuable genetic resources are at risk in that country. He said China, which accounts for 22 percent of the world's population, includes a rich diversity of 56 different ethnic groups, but these are becoming lost due to intermarriage.

The new project will collect genetic material from these groups in order to establish a frozen-state cell/gene bank, which is expected to remain viable for "millions of years," and will make possible the full investigation of genetic relations among the country's population. It will also help elucidate some major genetic diseases.

This project follows work started in 1994 on several gene loci structures of the human genome, involving 16 research institutes throughout China, with a budget of US$450,000, and a study by the Ministry of Science and Technology of "genes related to major diseases." The ministry is planning human genome project centers in Beijing, with funding of US$2 million, and Shanghai, with funding of US$2.5 million. So far these studies have established 18 permanent lymph cell lines collected from 16 ethnic groups. The MTHFR C-T mutation in the 677th position has been investigated for the first time, and the rate of this mutation has been linked to the epidemiology of atherosclerosis and nerviductus disease in various ethnic groups. *