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[BEIJING] China is to invest at least 300 million yuan (US$36 million) to protect the genes of its indigenous plants, according to a senior official of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

Zhu Zhen, deputy director of CAS's Bureau of Science and Technology, said on Tuesday (12 November) that China is planning to set up four new genebanks across the country. The aim is to preserve the genes of three quarters of China's indigenous plants by 2005.

Speaking in Beijing at the opening ceremony of a training programme on protecting biodiversity, Zhu said that the depositories would be located in Guangzhou in the southern province of Guangdong, Wuhan in the central Hubei Province, Xishuangbanna in China's Yunnan Province, and in Beijing.

Work has already started on the largest of the proposed genebanks, in Xishuangbanna. Besides preserving genetic material, this depository will also conserve 8,000 to 10,000 species as live plants.

The academy is providing half of the funds needed to set up the four genebanks. The rest will come from China's local governments.

China is one of the world's most biodiverse countries, but its plant and animal species are seriously threatened by the country’s rapid economic development and the mechanisation of agriculture. Experts say that some species, though still neglected by scientists, might become valuable sources for China's biotechnology projects, which aim to improve the nutrition of the country's 1.3 billion population.

In May, China launched a nationwide programme to investigate and record its indigenous plant and animals. This included the creation of research projects intended to limit imports of foreign species, on the grounds that these could damage China's indigenous plants and animals.

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