Top European Universities in Monkey Brain Research Linked to Chinese Military Royle

SYDNEY / COPENHAGEN-A Chinese professor at the University of Copenhagen conducted genetic research with the Chinese military without revealing a relationship, the university told Reuters. Sensitive areas of biotechnology.

Professor Guojie Zhang is also employed by the Shenzhen-based genomics giant BGI Group. The group has funded dozens of researchers at the university and has its European headquarters on the university campus.

Zhang and his students are working with the PLA Institute to study monkeys at extreme levels, study the brain, and develop new drugs to prevent brain damage. I did it. Border.

Zhang co-published his dissertation with Maj. Gen. PLA in January 2020. At the time the study was published, the university was “not familiar with the fact that the paper also included the authors of Chinese military research institutes,” the biology department told Reuters in an email.

Zhang confirmed that he did not notify the university of the link because the university did not require researchers to report co-authors of the scientific paper. BGI said that PLA laboratory research was “not done for military purposes” and that brain research is an important area for understanding human illness. The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) said the study brought national defense and private interests to the Tibetan Plateau.

Concerns about the fusion of China’s military and civilian technologies and the transfer of sensitive technologies that could help the military to China have increased in recent years in the United States. Washington last month agreed to work with the European Union on this issue under the new Joint Technology Trade Council. This month’s Pentagon report on China’s military power raised concerns about Beijing’s use of biotechnology to improve soldier performance.

The Danish case, first reported by Reuters, shows that the pursuit of biotechnology with military use in China is also a problem for European universities.

The European Commission states that it has developed guidelines for “countermeasures against foreign interference” in higher education institutions. At least five European countries were concerned about the risks of research cooperation with China, according to a 2020 report from the Leiden Asia Center, an independent group at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. Several universities, including Copenhagen, have long had close scientific ties with China.

Two large Danish foundations that funded part of the work of the University of Copenhagen and Zhang were falsely credited with the involvement of Chinese troops that one of the foundations funded monkey research. He said it wasn’t after confirming that it was. The work was funded by the Chinese government and the military, the newspaper said.

View of Copenhagen University, Denmark
The state of Copenhagen University in Denmark on October 29, 2021. (Nikolaj Skydsgaard / Reuters)

The discovery was that PET, a Danish intelligence agency, unknowingly involved in foreign military research at a Danish university in May because of “many espionage and other foreign interventions.” It was done by a student who co-authored the study and warned about national security risks. Worked on 5G technology with an engineer at a military university in China. I declined to comment on certain cases.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences, which also has a genetics institute in Zhang, described a study at the time when brain damage and death caused by the highlands of the Tibetan Plateau severely hindered “defense construction.”

The Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science declined to comment on the advanced survey, but said the export control regulations apply to some technologies that can be used for both civilian and military purposes. The Danish Business Authority said most types of genetic technology are not on its export control list.

The ministry said it has begun an extensive review of the risks of international research collaboration led by leading university presidents to reach a conclusion early next year.

The University of Copenhagen hopes that the review of “Ethical and Security Policy Restrictions” for collaboration will bring new rules to the university and further focus on risk.

“We are very proud to welcome Professor Zhang as one of the most talented researchers,” he said. The university did not answer the question about how much money BGI is funding.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has told Danish institutions to “abandon ideological prejudices, end unfounded criticisms and smears,” and treat research cooperation rationally, “for bilateral relations and practical cooperation. It creates positive energy for development. “


Maj. Gen. Yuqi Gao, head of the PLA Institute for Zhang and High Altitude Research, designed the study and co-authored BGI founders Wang Jian and Yang Huanming. According to Reuters, BGI’s collaboration with other Gao involves soldiers from Tibet and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The report was quoted by two US Senators who demanded that BGI be licensed by the United States as a military company in September. According to the official Chinese news agency, High’s research directly improved China’s rapidly advancing plateau forces’ ability to carry out training and combat missions.

The Academy of Military Medical Sciences in China launched a four-year plan in 2012 for the military to adapt and adapt to the low-oxygen Tibetan Plateau. According to the plan, BGI is working with Gao’s lab to test soldiers arriving in Tibet and identify genes associated with altitude sickness that do not affect Tibetans. He said prevention of altitude sickness helps “manage border areas where ethnic minorities gather” and has widespread economic and political importance.

BGI told Reuters a study with a military university aimed at understanding the health risks of all those who travel and work in the highlands.

“The project using BGI technology studied changes in the pathophysiology and genomics of the human body at very high altitudes,” said a BGI spokesman. “In China, many military institutions … are doing both civilian and military research,” he added.

Gao said in 2018 that high-altitude illnesses “are the main reason for the reduced combat effectiveness and health hazards of soldiers in the highlands and affect the outcome of the war in the highlands,” and drug rapids in emergencies. Soldier placement that could be used for.

Chinese troops have recently increased on-the-job evacuation drills in Tibet after the border clashed with India.

Deep bond

The University of Copenhagen is home to one of Europe’s oldest genetics laboratories and is BGI’s largest international research partner in terms of the number of scientific papers.

University of Copenhagen, Denmark
The state of Copenhagen University in Denmark on October 29, 2021. (Nikolaj Skydsgaard / Reuters)

The bond is deep. The two former BGI Chief Executive Officers, BGI Chairman, and the founder of its animal cloning program have previously studied or worked in Copenhagen. The university accepts more than 20 BGI-funded researchers with PhDs in Science and Health.

Biology director Croix told Reuters that the university was unaware of “the claim that BGI has something to do with the PLA.” The university said Danish money was not spent on studies alleging that animal rights activists suffered and suffered animals, except for Zhang’s salary as a professor.

The university said the student Zhang worked with was in China and was hired by BGI. Zhang’s research team was not involved in animal experiments conducted in China, but added that they analyzed genomic data generated from the experiments.

The Lundbeck Foundation, which primarily funded brain research and was mistakenly listed as a funder of monkey brain research, said, “We do not support this area of ​​his research and we also have knowledge about it. I haven’t, “he said of the Monkey Brain Project. .. Lundbeck said Zhang was studying ants and genetics and told them how this could explain the processes in the human brain.

The Foundation said it had requested Mr. Zhang to remove the name from the investigation this year. The Carlsberg Foundation, which managed the world’s third-largest brewery and said it gave Zhang a $ 623,000 fellowship in 2016, also told Reuters that it was misrepresented as funding the project.

This paper was published in the Chinese journal Zoological Research, but declined to comment.

Zhang is on the editorial board of the journal. He told Reuters that two Danish foundations were mistakenly mentioned in the dissertation. “We didn’t spend money on this project from the grants we received from these two foundations,” he added by email. The journal published an amendment in March 2021 to remove the Foundation name.

Lundbeck declined to comment on what the findings could impact. Carlsberg said animal testing abroad would have to comply with Danish regulations, but did not comment on military involvement.

Internal discussion

In June 2020, the University of Copenhagen decided to close the think tank that had been operating at Fudan University in Shanghai since 2013, as it coordinated its overall cooperation strategy.

This decision prompted discussions about China within the university, as shown by documents obtained by Reuters under the rules of freedom of information. In August 2020, the university discussed the end of the Fudan program and held a meeting to consider cooperation with China.

In a memo to the university president, Professor Jorgen Delman of Chinese Studies later said, “China has been working on strategic civilian military research fusion, which often blurs the boundaries with outsiders. He recommended better screening of Chinese researchers and consultation with the Danish military intelligence agency. Advise on “risks and exclusion zones”. He declined to comment further.

Gene cloning technology was transferred to BGI after researcher Du Yutao Du received a doctorate from a team at a Danish university in 2007. The team created the world’s first pig using a technique called handmade cloning. She was praised by the Chinese government for bringing technology to China, and China cloned a genetically modified pig for the study of human neurological disorders.

According to China’s National Science Program, cloned pigs were a stepping stone to Chimera, a controversial region where China wanted to lead the world. A chimera is an organism composed of cells from two or more “individuals” that may be able to grow an organ for human transplantation.

Du is currently the Vice President of BGI Genomics Ltd, winning a promotion within the Chinese Communist Party and representing the national tournament in 2017. She did not respond to the request for comment.

Kirsty Needam and Stein Jacobsen