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[BEIJING] China has announced a National Agricultural Biosafety Science Centre to fend off invasive species and trace the potential impacts of genetically modified crops.

The US$17.75 million centre is one of a dozen big science projects planned by the Chinese government. The plans were announced this week (25 February) by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), which is responsible for nearly all major investment from the central Chinese government.

The biosafety centre will comprise laboratories to investigate high-risk plant pathogens, insects and invasive plants, as well as quarantine facilities. It will be run by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) and is due to open in 2009.

Wu Kongming, a senior scientist at CAAS's Institute of Plant Protection, said the centre will provide a public platform for Chinese and foreign scientists to study biosafety issues related to agriculture.

"We usually only find [invasive species] when the species outbreak is on a large scale. But with the centre, suspicious samples from different regions could be frequently tested to reveal any threats," Wu told SciDev.Net.

He added that the centre's quarantined environment will ensure that research samples — often live organisms — cannot spread to natural environments.

Wu also highlighted the centre's important role in evaluating the impact of genetically modified crops on agriculture by recreating the environments in closed and controlled conditions.

All data obtained in the centre will be shared with agricultural scientists nationwide, according to a CAAS newsletter.

Besides the biosafety centre, NDRC plans to spend around US$860 million on 11 other large science projects in the next five years.

Some US$250 million will be put towards studying the microstructure of molecules and materials. A further US$86 million will be invested in the large aperture spherical telescope, the world's largest of its kind, which will investigate deep space and the early universe.