Israeli-founded genealogy platform MyHeritage, the company behind DNA testing for family ancestry, has partnered with the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) to set up a lab for accelerated COVID-19 testing in Israel, the company announced on Friday.
The lab is expected to begin running on April 9 and will be able to conduct 10,000 tests a day with a goal of as many as 20,000 tests, MyHeritage said.
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BGI has already established similar labs in the Chinese cities of Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus is believed to have originated, and Shenzhen.
BGI will airlift equipment from China in the coming days with dozens of advanced testing machines. COVID-19 is currently diagnosed using Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing which examines the presence of a unique genetic sequence of viruses in a single sample, according to MyHeritage founder and CEO Gilad Japhet.
Twenty-five experts from China are set to travel to Israel to train lab technicians to work with the equipment, Japhet said. The Chinese team will arrive with medical certificates clearing them of the virus and exempting them from the Ministry of Health’s directives for travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Israel.
MyHeritage says it will provide funding for the lab, while BGI will supply its technology, equipment, and staff. MyHeritage is also looking to recruit an additional 110 employees to work in the lab, Japhet said.
The Israeli Health Ministry is currently working with over 20 labs across the country to process coronavirus tests, and is looking to increase the number of tests conducted daily to help stem the spread of the virus. Israel currently has close to 4,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Last week, MyHeritage announced it would donate 66,000 medical swabs to Israel in a bid to combat the coronavirus outbreak. The swabs were shipped from the company’s supplier in North Carolina and the company estimated its donation would amount to about $10 million in lost revenues, MyHeritage said.
Japhet said that when he got in touch with the point person in the US who had supplied MyHeritage with the swabs, the salesperson said that there was no chance of getting them from China but that he had kept an emergency supply in his home in North Carolina. Japhet told him it was an emergency and Israel’s Ministry of Health helped ship them to Israel.
Founded in 2003 and based in Or Yehuda, MyHeritage offers a platform to help users create family trees by searching through historical documents like census, immigration, marriage, and burial records in 42 languages. In 2016, MyHeritage launched a genetic testing service that provides DNA matching, ancestry, and ethnicity estimates.