Aihwa Ong is Robert H. Lowie Distinguished Chair in Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, the author of
The “Athlete Gene” in China’s Future
This final chapter shifts to South China, where BGI Genomics provides an important contrast to Biopolis in its mix of a commercial global thrust and the use of ethnicity in a national framing of genomic science. BGI has become “a global DNA assembly factory” for having sequenced most of the world’s life-forms. Domestically, bgi deploys official minzu categories that reinforce the national model of Han majority versus non-Han minorities. A Tibetan-Han DNA study looks for the “athlete gene” that may provide insights for developing therapies for Han people who lack this physiological adaptation to living in oxygen-thin highlands. This preemptive focus on the biological capacitation of populations suggests that China’s scheme of official ethnicities is conceptualized as a diversified pool of genetic resources for the fortification of China’s genomes against the pressures of an environment to come. The author illuminates how scientists at bgi are attuned to scenarios of catastrophic events associated with China’s huge, aging population and the survival challenges of climate change.