BGI unveils rapid deployment inflatable biosafety lab

BGI has designed the modular air dome structure for fast and effective COVID-19 in-country testing as it can be easily transported by air as standard freight

The first Huo-Yan Air Lab located in front of the Shenzhen China National GeneBank

COVID-19 has highlighted the need for countries to rapidly build-up screening and testing infrastructure. In order to address this unprecedented challenge, BGI, in collaboration with the company Etopia, have jointly designed a mobile, inflatable P2 level biosafety laboratory: the "Huo-Yan Air Lab".

The first was installed at the Shenzhen National GeneBank on 3 April.

The Huo-Yan (meaning 'Fire Eye') Air Lab's patented design uses a modular air dome structure. It can be easily transported by air as standard freight on any commercial passenger plane, and quickly constructed and deployed locally to support the screening and detection capabilities of countries around the world, thereby allowing authorities to control the pandemic at an earlier stage.

Huo-Yan is based on BGI's previous experience constructing a P3 level biosafety laboratory using an inflatable structure during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 in West Africa.

The Huo-Yan Air Lab consists of five major functional areas, including:

  • Sample Collection Area
  • Sample Reception Area
  • Sample Preparation Area
  • Reagent Preparation Area
  • Amplification Area

The Huo-Yan Air Lab is equipped with auxiliary conversion space including air lock conversion, medical waste exhaust system and integrated bathroom, and is installed with Class II biological safety cabinets, automatic nucleic acid preparation instruments, qPCR instruments, antibody detection equipment, gene sequencers, high-performance servers and other COVID-19 virus nucleic acid detection equipment.

The laboratory is designed with a fresh air system and High Efficiency Particulate Air Filter (HEPA) to independently filter and manage the air entering and exiting the air in each functional area. This ensures that the gases in each functional space do not contaminate each other, and at the same time guarantees that outward emissions are correctly and safely filtered to comply with relevant standards and guidelines for biological safety in gene amplification laboratories and virus detection laboratories.

"The Huo-Yan Air Lab fully meets the demands of global biosafety requirements and industry specifications," noted Yin Ye, CEO of BGI Genomics.

At the unveiling ceremony for the first installation at Schenzhen China National GeneBank it was announced that the laboratory aims to obtain third-party certification for testing in the near future.

Dr SU Yunsheng PhD, Executive VP of the Shanghai International Institute of Design and Innovation at Tongji University and founder of Shanghai Etopia, also stressed the Huo-Yan Air Lab advantages, including scalability, low energy consumption, intelligent design, effective storage, easy transportation and dismantling.

Furthermore, in the future the laboratory will be optimised so that it can be sprayed with composite materials in order to form a concrete shell structure and become a permanent structure where needed.