Monkey-brain examine with hyperlink to China’s navy roils high European college


A Chinese professor on the University of Copenhagen carried out genetic analysis with the Chinese navy with out disclosing the connection, the college informed Reuters, within the newest instance of how China’s pursuit of military-civilian know-how is tapping into Western academia within the strategically delicate space of biotechnology.

The professor, Guojie Zhang, can also be employed by Shenzhen-based genomics large BGI Group, which funds dozens of researchers on the college and has its European headquarters on the college’s campus.

Zhang and a pupil he was supervising labored with a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) laboratory on analysis exposing monkeys to excessive altitude to check their brains and develop new medication to stop mind harm – a precedence the PLA has recognized for Chinese troops working on excessive plateau borders.

Zhang co-published that paper with a PLA main basic in January 2020. At the time the examine was revealed, the college was “not familiar with the fact that the paper also included authors from Chinese military research institutions,” Niels Kroer, head of its biology division, informed Reuters in an e-mail.

Zhang confirmed that he didn’t inform the college of the hyperlink as a result of the college did not require researchers to report co-authors on scientific papers to it, which the college confirmed. BGI mentioned the examine with the PLA lab “was not carried out for military purposes” and mind analysis is a crucial space for understanding human illnesses.

China’s authorities science academy mentioned the examine had nationwide defence and civilian advantages on the Tibetan plateau.

Concerns about China’s fusion of navy and civilian know-how, and about universities transferring delicate know-how to China that might assist its navy, have grown within the United States lately. Washington agreed final month to work with the European Union on the problem beneath a brand new joint know-how and commerce council.

A US Department of Defence report on China’s navy energy this month flagged concern over Beijing utilizing biotechnology to reinforce its troopers’ efficiency.

The Danish incident, reported right here for the primary time, reveals how China’s pursuit of biotechnology with a navy use has additionally turn into a difficulty for universities in Europe.

The European Commission says it’s creating pointers on “tackling foreign interference” at larger schooling establishments; a 2020 report from the Leiden Asia Centre, an impartial group affiliated with Leiden University within the Netherlands, discovered a minimum of 5 nations in Europe had considerations concerning the dangers of analysis collaboration with China. Some universities, together with Copenhagen, have lengthy had shut science ties to China.

Copenhagen college and two massive Danish foundations who funded a few of Zhang’s work mentioned they found China’s navy was concerned solely after one of many foundations noticed it had been credited, incorrectly, with financing the monkey examine. The work was funded by the Chinese authorities and navy, the paper mentioned.

The discovery got here as Denmark’s intelligence company, PET, warned Danish universities in May of the nationwide safety dangers of being unwittingly concerned in overseas navy analysis, citing “a number of espionage activities and other foreign interference,” and a pupil who co-authored analysis into 5G know-how with an engineer from a Chinese navy college. It declined to touch upon particular circumstances.

The Chinese Academy of Science, the place Zhang additionally has a genetics lab, mentioned of the examine on the time that mind harm and demise brought on by excessive altitude on the Tibetan plateau had severely hindered “national defence construction”.

Denmark’s Ministry of Higher Education and Science declined to touch upon the altitude examine, however mentioned export management rules apply to some know-how that can be utilized for each civilian and navy functions. The Danish Business Authority mentioned most varieties of gene know-how aren’t on its export management record.

The ministry mentioned it had launched a broad evaluation of the dangers of worldwide analysis cooperation, led by high college heads, to conclude in the beginning of subsequent yr.

The University of Copenhagen expects the evaluation of “ethical and security policy limits” for collaboration will end in new rules for universities – and higher concentrate on the dangers, its deputy director for analysis and innovation, Kim Brinckmann informed Reuters in an e-mail.

“We are very proud to have Prof Zhang … as one of our very highly performing researchers,” he mentioned. The college didn’t reply to a query about how a lot funding BGI supplies it.

China’s overseas ministry mentioned it urged Danish establishments to “abandon ideological prejudice and end groundless accusations and smears,” and deal with their analysis cooperation rationally “to accrue positive energy in the development of bilateral relations and practical cooperation.”


Zhang and the top of the PLA laboratory for high-altitude analysis, Major General Yuqi Gao, designed the examine, which additionally lists BGI founders Wang Jian and Yang Huanming as co-authors. BGI’s different joint analysis with Gao has concerned troopers in Tibet and Xinjiang, Reuters reported in January.

That report was cited by two US senators who referred to as in September for BGI to be sanctioned by the United States as a military-linked firm. Gao’s analysis has immediately improved the power of China’s rapid-advance plateau troops to hold out coaching and fight missions, in response to the Chinese navy’s official information service.

China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences launched a four-year plan in 2012 for troops to acclimatise and adapt to the low-oxygen Tibetan plateau. That plan mentioned BGI was working with Gao’s lab to check troopers arriving in Tibet and determine genes linked to altitude illness, which doesn’t have an effect on Tibetans. It mentioned stopping altitude illness helped to “manage border areas where ethnic minorities gather,” and had far-reaching financial and political significance.

BGI informed Reuters the analysis with the navy college aimed to grasp the well being threat for all individuals travelling to and dealing at excessive altitude.

“The project using BGI’s technology studied the changes of the pathophysiology and genomics of the human body at very high altitudes,” a BGI spokesman mentioned. “In China, many military institutions … carry out both civilian and military research,” he added.

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