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[BEIJING] China began building a repository to house samples of its biodiversity this week.

China hopes the centre will become one of the largest collections of its kind in Asia and a world-class research centre.

Based at the Kunming Institute of Botany in China's south-western Yunnan province, the collection will include samples of 19,000 species. Most of these will be collected from Yunnan province — which is home to more than half of China's biodiversity — and from the neighbouring Tibet Autonomous Region.

It will eventually include nearly 200,000 samples in seed and DNA banks, a collection of living plants, and specimens of animals and micro-organisms.

The building is due to be finished and equipped in 2006 but it is expected that it will take between ten and 15 years to collect all the specimens.

The project is being jointly developed and managed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Yunnan's provincial government at a cost of 148 million yuan (US$18 million).

At the project launch on 29 November, the vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chen Zhu, said scientists would use the collection for biotechnology research. It would also help protect biodiversity and popularise science, Chen added.

According to the academy's website, the repository will oversee foreign research on China's genetic resources.

In recent years, Chinese media reports have repeatedly accused foreign researchers of 'biopiracy' — gaining benefit from a country's biological resources without fair compensation (see China faces uphill battle against 'biopiracy').

Also on 29 November, the Kunming Institute of Botany opened the International Centre for Mountain Ecosystem Studies in Kunming, a joint project between it and the World Agroforestry Centre (known as ICRAF) that will focus on studies of natural resources and the environment in the Tibetan Plateau, east Himalayas and Hengduan Mountains.