Britain decided not to list genomics as critical infrastructure, deputy PM says

By Thomson Reuters Apr 18, 2024 | 8:15 AM

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has decided not to designate genomics as critical national infrastructure, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said on Thursday, adding a review of the issue had concluded that the current system provided sufficient controls.

Dowden had said last year he was exploring whether to designate genomics as critical national infrastructure (CNI), amid pressure from lawmakers concerned at China’s activity in the field.

CNI is infrastructure that, if compromised, could have a major detrimental impact on essential services or a significant impact on national security, and a designation can result in greater scrutiny of how contracts and research are handled in a sector.

“On genomics, ultimately, we took a decision not to designate it as CNI because we’re confident that actually there’s already very strong existing legislation and regulation around that, within the health care sector,” Dowden said in a Q&A session after a speech on economic security in London.

“So on balance, I was reassured that we have all the controls that we would by designating it CNI through existing legislation.”

Genomics is the study of the genome – the complete set of DNA contained within a single cell.

A Reuters investigation in 2021 found that China’s BGI Group had developed prenatal tests in collaboration with the Chinese military and used them to collect genetic data from women around the world for research on the traits of populations.

BGI says it has never shared data for national security purposes and has never been asked to.

Last year, UK lawmakers wrote to the country’s data regulator asking it to probe BGI, citing the Reuters investigation, while campaigners have also written to the government to ask for an inquiry into its links with British universities.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Sharon Singleton)