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Gene Center Offers Hope for Separated Families
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Help is on hand for separated family members - a gene center is providing a one-off sample collection from blood and hair, and storing the information in a database to help them reunite.

"We offer a convenient and cost-efficient way to help restore contact among separated family members," said Yu Xiaoguang, a division director at the center of forensic sciences of Beijing Genomics Institute affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Established in May, the database compares pairs of samples to prove possible consanguinity, or blood ties. "State-of-the-art technology and equipment make the possibility of a wrong conclusion nil," Yu said.

It is estimated that about 500,000 in China have lost contact with their family members because of natural disasters, wars or political turmoil, Yu told China Daily.

He cited the example of Guanlin Township, of Yixing in East China's Jiangsu Province.

From 1958 to 1961, the country witnessed widespread famine as a result of devastating economic policies during the Great Leap Forward movement.

To help their babies survive, about 100,00 families in Guanlin gave them to people in the central and western parts of the country, where the economic situation was better.

"Now, nearly 50 years have passed, and the abandoned babies are now in their 50s. They are eagerly trying to reestablish connection with their natural parents or siblings," Yu said.

Many have spent years searching, exhausting their financial resources and undergoing emotional ups and downs only to find that their beloved ones still beyond reach.

Lu Shunfang, a Guanlin native in her 60s, has been looking for her lost younger sister for years in vain.

"My footsteps have covered more than half of the country. I am getting old and exhausted," Lu was quoted by the Beijing Morning Post as saying. "What I can do now is only wait."

She gave her DNA sample to the institute's database in May.

Experts said such a database has to have at least 10,000 individual samples to make any successful gene comparison feasible. To date, not a single successful match has been made in the database, which has only about 400 samples, Yu said.

"We'll gather more samples for the database," Yu said. "It's a goodwill, non-profit business."

He said that a minimum of 20 million yuan (US$2.63 million) is needed to have all the samples of the 500,000 who are separated from their families.

(China Daily July 20, 2007)

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