The Scoreis a play that brings together science, art, music and dance.
It became a movie that earned a Gemini nomination for its photography and music score, a Best Movie of the Week nomination at the Banff Television Awards, and a Leo nomination for Best Musical Score in a Feature Length Film. And now the obscure 2005 movie has found a spot in the Council of Canadian Academies report on science culture in Canada.
The original play was commissioned in 1999 by geneticist Dr. Michael Hayden of the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics and was created by Electric Company Theatre in Vancouver.
A few years ago at BIO in Atlanta I was part of a 'Think & Drink' panel discussion that included Mary Canady, founder of Comprendia a life sciences marketing company here in San Diego. With BIO 2014 in sunny San Diego it was no surprise that Mary was at the event and when I saw her we started talking about, what else, social media. We both attended the Monday session "Like, Share, and Tweet Your Way to Change" and talked about whether social media had made any real inroads into the biotech sector since our panel session in Atlanta.
The good news is that the use of social media in the life science in general is increasing though it probably is still considered an emerging trend. A simple look around the online world surrounding BIO this year shows a leap forward since our panel. More blogs, more tweets, more Instagram pictures. Considering the highly regulated nature of much of the biotech industry it is also good news to see companies such as Eli Lily loosen things up with its @LillyPad Twitter account and associated website. They even have a Canadian @LillyPadCA account and site!The flipside is that social media use in biotech or even science in general is not keeping pace. At least not from the scientists or the industry.
If your country is spending upwards of $79 million (US) on healthcare and 80% of the medications used by the population are imported, then you have to start considering the options. In fact in the UAE healthcare expenditure in per capita terms, is among the top 20 in the world. While there are many reasons the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are trying to boost their bioeconomy, such health care costs are certainly a major motivating factor.
With a young and increasingly well educated workforce and a strong financial base in the UAE for instance (think of all that oil... and a GDP of $383 billion ), the area is well positioned to strengthen its biotech sector.
Ag-West Bio is Saskatchewan's bioscience industry association. It has been moving beyond its agricultural roots and has member companies that cut across a wide swath of the bioeconomy.
One of those companies is Agrisoma which won the coveted Gold Leaf Company of the Year Award from BIOTECanada here at BIO in San Diego on Tuesday. Based in Saskatoon, Agrisoma is an agricultural company that has commercialized carinata, a non-food oilseed crop and developed it to be suitable for biofuels. The company's CEO Steven Fabijanski had to leave BIO immediately after accepting the award so I never had the chance to talk with him but Mike Cey from Ag-West BIO stepped in and we talked about Agrisoma, Ag-West, and some of the other member companies.
When I prepare for doing the BIO podcast every year, organizers give me a media pass which means I quickly become inundated with media release of all kinds. This year several management and investment firms have released some sort of "State of the Industry" report. One that caught my eye was from JLL a New York based real estate management company. Real estate? Life Sciences Cluster Report?
Well if you think about it, physical space devoted to research, development, production, and marketing connected with the life science is important and is certainly a 'real world' indicator of what money is being spent where. In the case of JLL they add in research on patents, education, etc so they end up with a pretty good snapshot of where R & D and production is moving.
Got an itch? The age old home remedy is to do more than just scratch it, but to use oatmeal as a paste, lotion or bath. It certainly isn't a new remedy, but an Edmonton company is applying some modern know-how to this traditional product as well as finding other ways to put oats to work. CEAPRO is a biotech company that is at BIO 2014 as part of the Alberta delegation led by BIOAlberta. The company has been working slowly and steadily to develop botanical ingredients to manufacturers of personal care products and nutraceuticals, and to developers of therapeutics.
Lyonbiopole is a biocluster established in France to foster innovation in human and veterinary medicine, in vitro diagnostics, and new medical devices and technologies.
I've interviewed representatives from Lyonbiopole before but when I arrived here on Monday they had a particularly large contingent and meetings on the upper level of the Convention Centre. There are 17 French companies on hand this year plus this larger fast track effort to reach out to possible investors and collaborators from around the world.
There are a lot of science education and research events that attract some very bright young students. At the top of those events is the BioGENEius Challenge which brings together U.S and Canadian high school students who are conducting original, high level research in university or industry labs.
Organized by The Biotechnology Institute and sponsored largely by Sanofi, the BIOGENEius challenge got started in Toronto in 2002 and is generally now considered to be the most prestigious of the high school science competitions.
As I've met people at BIO that I haven't seen in awhile we inevitably ask "how are you?". When Alberta's Health Minister Fred Horne came to my location for an interview that too was part of our initial chat as I set up the microphone.
Whether it is out of politeness or because we really want to know, we all care about health and we care about it before we actually get sick. Good health care can be expensive and to get the technology right, to understand the complex make-up of disease, and to make a public health care system be more efficient, we need to do research both basic and applied and we need to add it into the health care mix.
While it would be nice if we could simply teach the world to sing and drive research and technology to make it a better place, the reality is that commercialization is important. Whether it is a new drug to help treat disease, a new sequencer to develop specialize cancer therapies, or a vaccine to get ahead of the curve, someone has to have the idea, and some company has to make it a reality.
That usually means a patent filing and the UK based Marks & Clerk have been tracking patent filing and spotting trends. The firm specializes in intellectual property and has an interest in the life sciences and biotechnology.
The just released their "Life Sciences Report 2014: Genome 2.0" at the BIO 2014 Convention in San Diego.
If I can forget the line-ups to get a coffee in the morning in the San Diego Convention Centre, it is amazing how you can put 15,000 people plus exhibits into a single building and generally not feel too crowded or squeezed in. While the organizers of BIO need to put in a lot of work to make it happen, watching the set up and the efficiency of the building operation itself was a site to watch yesterday. It went from construction zone to an impressive conference in a very short period of time.
I've had the opportunity to go to several of the Biotechnology Industry Organization's International events and walked many miles around venues in Boston, Atlanta, Washington, Chicago, Montreal (BIO Congress), and this is my second BIO in San Diego. As a journalist I also had the opportunity to see some major facilities that hosted Olympics and political conventions. The San Diego Convention Center is probably the best of the lot. (my spell checker by the way is very Canadian and is not happy with making it Center and not Centre).
The facility is huge and even with 20,000 people wandering around, the 2.6 million sq ft never feels crowded. There are plenty of windows and skylights so it is always bright and you never feel closed in. So many attendees can warm up a convention centre quickly, especially with all that glass, but the building generally stays cool enough to keep you comfortable. They claim to have an emphasis on energy efficiency and to keep it profitable there is no choice but to use the best lighting, insulation, and energy efficient equipment so there is likely merit to the claim.
Genome Alberta will once again be broadcasting live from theBIO Convention, this year from sunny San Diego.
When I started out in broadcasting, live coverage from events was expensive, required a complex technical set-up, and had to be staffed accordingly. By the time I left broadcasting, the technical requirements were simpler, the costs were down, and the broadcast quality was almost as good as the premium set-up. Now we've seen a leap forward where the quality has been nudged up, the costs nudged down, and though the set-up requires some tech savvy, it is within reach of most people.
We've been at the last 5 BIO conventions and at our first event recorded audio interviews and posted them to our website. The next year we live streamed the content while recording and posted the edited content later. We've become a regular part of BIO - especially for Canadians - and once again will be located in the BIOBuzz area thanks to the co-operation of the BIO organizers. This year with the affordable streaming server support from NetroMedia and a neat iPad app called GoCoder, we're also able to stream live anytime and from anywhere in the San Diego Convention Centre. We could stream video as well but the bandwidth costs add up and my 'studio-in-a-bag' would be pushed to its technical limits - but maybe next year.
There will be lots of good audio and blog content starting on Monday.
Turkey have difficulty mating naturally because of genetic selection for larger birds.
Cows can be bred to use feed more efficiently and emit less greenhouse gas.
Genomics technology can be used to trace meat from farm to table.
Consumers are more willing to accept biotech practices when used for the greater good and less for profit motives.
Genomics and GMOs are locked together in the consumer's mind.
These are just a few of the points that have come up in our discussions so far in Lethbridge, Calgary, and Red Deer. Our next discussion on whether livestock and biotechnology are a match made in heaven takes place at the University of Alberta's Lister Centre on Wednesday, June 4th at 7:00p.
Genome Alberta and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency are partnering again to support genomic sciences in Alberta’s livestock and meat industry. In 2010 the organizations launched an ‘Applied Livestock Genomics Program (ALGP)’ that funded 9 projects, which are now delivering exciting results demonstrating the tremendous potential of genomics to make positive impacts in our multi-billion dollar livestock industry.
Now we're working on a new round of funding to further work in livestock genomics.
Bring up the science of genetics and you can't get away from discussing the ethical and societal implications that go along with it. The use of genomics technology in agriculture generally invokes some immediate reactions from people, usually based on food that comes from genetically modified crops. Livestock genomics however is a little less understood and right now is less controversial, mostly because we generally deal with genetic selection and not genetic modification. Genetic selection is a tool that helps in what is essentially still a traditional breeding technique but with more predicable results.
That doesn't mean there are no broader social issues to be aware of and to help in the discussion and to share information in the broadest way we can Genome Alberta, with funding from the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency is taking the discussion on the road to 6 Alberta cities.
The full schedule is included at the end of this post but in the meantime we thought we give you a reading list of sorts to help you understand the science of livestock genomics and some of the issues involved:
Today - April 29th - is DNA Day in Canada. The day is organized by us here at Genome Alberta and our partner in the initiative, Let's Talk Science.
We have a few activities planned including a day of live chats with Canadian experts in the field of genetics, a Google Hangout with science writer and boradcaster Jay Ingram, and we ave a host of videos to answer questions we received over the last few weeks. You can find it all at http://LetsTalkDNA.ca
To help recognize the day we also received a boost from the Alberta Legislature on April 22nd when MLA Linda Johnson (PC Calgary-Glenmore) read a statement in the Legislature.
We'd like to thank Ms. Johnson for her support. Here's her statement as noted in Hansard:
On April 23rd we held a workshop to examine the issues, challenges, and economics of the increased use of genomics tools and technology in livestock production. We're taking a lot of the information and ideas from that workshop on the road with a series of discussions that are open to the public. We'll be in 6 Alberta cities on Wednesdays starting on May 14th and encourage you to spend 90 minutes with us to talk about how we can best ensure the safe and socially responsible use of genomics in a sustainable livestock industry:
The series is being organized by us here at Genome Alberta with additional funding from the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency and we want to have an open discussion that looks at livestock genomics technology from many aspects.
Genome Alberta and Let's Talk Science are getting ready for the 4th incarnation of our annual DNA Day on April 29th.
DNA Day in Canada is patterned on the U.S. DNA Day with the goal of acknowledging the discovery of DNA's Double Helix in 1953 by James Watson and Francis Crick, or more accurately the April 1953 publication of their paper in Nature Magazine. It is also an opportunity to mark the April 2003 announcement of the completion of the Human Genome Project.
These 2 events marked a turning point in our knowledge of genetics and in our understanding of the biological blueprint for that incredibly complex organism that we call - 'me'.
The 1953 discovery by Watson and Crick was arguably the most significant biological discovery of the 20th century so it is fitting that we single out a day to raise awareness of genetics. It is one of the days when we offer access to our top genetics experts so Canadians can ask about the complex science but also the many ethical and cultural questions that are being raised.
We want you to join us and ask your questions.
Science can be hard. Good communications can be just as hard. Effective science communication can really take the cake when it comes to a challenge.
Yet the specialized subject of science communication is rarely tackled as part of journalism degrees or writing courses, and communications is a rare find as part of a science degree. We live in a period of rapid technological changes, huge advances in medical research and treatment, genetic breakthroughs, physics making the main pages of newspapers, and of course the political sticking points found around GMOs, climate change, and evolution.
To make these complex stories easier to understand, science communications is oddly not all about science. There is a strong element of art and craft that comes into play to make a story resonate with the audience.
That spectrum of skills gets the full treatment at the Banff Centre every summer and we have some financial help to offer potential attendees who want to create memorable stories.
U.S. based, English speakers are the single largest demographic found on Twitter but that is far from the end of the story. Twitter appears in 612 languages and is the world's 4th most popular social media network (behind Facebook, Goolge+, and YouTube). With approximately 58 million tweets flying around the world every day it is tempting to dismiss the service and being too big to be manageable and with only 140 characters at play in a given posting, too small to be useful.
With some patience, clear goals in minds, and practice with the right tools, Twitter can produce a wealth of targeted information flowing into and out of your accounts.
For instance I use Hootsuite to manage all the accounts I follow, the 2 accounts I tweet from, and the hashtags or subjects I track for myself and on behalf of Genome Alberta. The basic, free account is useful and worth learning how to use, but I subscribe to the Pro account which offers more analytics, advanced message scheduling, ability to have someone else in the office work from the same account, and to manage other social media accounts such as Facebook and LinkedIn, all from the same interface. It also allows us to more fully integrate feeds from our account so they appear on our web site and on our GenOmics News pages.
In February of 2013 at the Science Online Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina there was a presentation on communicating science in a place where there is no science communication. Sadly it turned out the 2 Canadians giving the presentation were talking about their home country and the Canadians who were there left feeling a bit sheepish about how we are perceived. Though we didn't all agree entirely with the perception, it was clear some action was needed to fix it.
The notion that something needed to be fixed was already out there and ideas were percolating before we even got back to Canada.
I'm pleased to say that we're set to go back to Raleigh this week with developments that were debated, designed, delivered, and launched by November 2013.
And we're set to show the folks at Science Online 2014 just how Canadians can get things done.
Genome Alberta has an opening for a Program Director as Ying Gravel has decided it is time to retire after filling the position almost from the day the organization first saw the light of day. Our offices are located in Calgary across from the University of Calgary with plenty of free parking and a good group of people to work with. We're a publicly funded not-for-profit corporation that initiates, funds, and manages genomics research and partnerships.
We strive to be the leading source of information and administration related to genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, and bioethics research in Alberta. As an organization we like to emphasize our role in informing students, researchers, research organizations, our partners, and the public about opportunities and challenges in genomics and proteomics, and in encouraging the development of a Life Sciences research industry in Alberta.
Your duties and responsibilities will include, but are not limited to:
On February 3rd, the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada presented awards to some of Canada’s top researchers in natural sciences and engineering. Among those who were honoured at the awards ceremony was Dr. Ford Doolittle who received the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering. He is chair of the Science Advisory Board for the Genome Alberta funded Hydrocarbon Metagenomics project and is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Dalhousie University. Dr. Doolittle was recognized for his work on the evolution of genes and genomes and how living organisms survive and adapt at the gene level.
It started several years ago with funding and support from Genome Alberta, Genome BC, and Genome Canada, and last week the Mountain Pine Beetle Project became a truly national enterprise with close to $3 million in funding from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Strategic Network Grants program.
Over the next 5 years the TRIA Network will build on the work which began in 2007 to protect Canadian forests through science-based strategies to
control spread of the mountain pine beetle (MPB) in Canada.
@GenomeAlberta and @mikesgene have around 2500 followers ranging from science journalists, to academic institutions, to government agencies. They cover many areas of science and are based in many countries. In turn we follow several hundred accounts and we share information, ideas, comments, and web links with them.
Every 2 weeks we put together a lists of some of the 140 character posts we come across so we can share the useful, interesting, and sometimes fun finds from our Twitter travels.
The science community on Twitter has been pretty busy over the last couple of weeks with lots to read about the retraction of the Seralini GMO paper, information and observations from the Canadian Science Policy Conference, and differing viewpoints on the FDA letter sent to 23andMe.
Here is a very small sample of some of the thousands of stories covering many aspects of the life sciences that have passed through the accounts of @GenomeAlberta and @mikesgene
Be sure to follow both accounts to see how you can use Twitter to help tell your story or many of the other science stories we come across every day.
The links have all been checked and are safe to click on and we trust the accounts the stories come from:
All set to buy your shares when Twitter goes Public? What you don't even have a Twitter account?
Don't worry, we haven't made plans to buy shares either and every 2 weeks we bring you a sample of some of the life science and biotech related posts from Twitter. If you do have an account be sure to follow @mikesgene (me, Genome Alberta's Communications Director) or @GenomeAlberta.
Here's what we think might interest you from the last 2 weeks.
This is another feature in our series of guest posts from Alberta's iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) teams sponsored by Genome Alberta. This entry from Jenna Friedt bring us some of the University of Lethbridge Collegiate team's highlights at the North American Regional Jamboree held in Toronto. October 4-6. You can find more on the weekend's event in our blog post on the Alberta teams going to the world championships in Boston.
After a whirlwind weekend of lots of great science, not enough sleep, and many unexpected surprises, the flight back to Lethbridge from the iGEM North America Regionals Jamboree in Toronto was bittersweet. It felt great to be coming home to celebrate our success with our remaining team member and university community, but it was sad to be leaving behind some great new friends and the bustle of the big city.
The weeks leading up to the regional competition were busy and exhausting trying to complete last-minute experiments and get all of our results posted to our team website (http://2013.igem.org/Team:Lethbridge). On the first day of the competition, we all felt like we had stepped into Hogwarts as we munched on snacks served in the beautiful Hart House building at the University of Toronto. The next day, we watched presentations from teams all over North America and engaged in discussions with judges and other iGEMers at the evening poster session. The nerves were still with us after this, as we were unsure of how well our project, titled FRAMEchanger, stood up to all the others we had seen throughout the day.
Twitter is what you make of it and for many people it is a place to share ideas, find links related to their work, find experts, and seek out comments on thoughts and ideas. Scientists generally tend to dismiss Twitter but it is growing in popularity within the research community and a recent paper in the journal Ideas in Ecology and Evolution helps make the case for Twitter as one element of the scientific publication process. The journal is published at Queen’s University and the paper included 2 authors from Simon Fraser University. The complete paper is available for download at http://library.queensu.ca/ojs/index.php/IEE/article/view/4625
Here at Genome Alberta we use Twitter to keep in touch with people working in science communications whether they are bloggers, journalists, or in the PR side of science and research. We post our own material and re-post articles and information we think will be of interest to accounts that follow us. We also like to engage Alberta based organizations of all kinds to help keep our name out there with the general public and with various government, not-profit, and industry sectors. You can follow us as well at either @GenomeAlberta or @mikesgene
Here is a very small sample of some of the Tweets that passed through our accounts over the last couple of weeks:
Researchers at Edmonton's Metabolomics Innovation Centre (TMIC) have mapped out more than 3,000 chemicals or metabolites found in our urine. You might think that after thousands of years of peeing we'd know exactly what it is made of, but David Wishart who was the senior scientist on the project and who leads TMIC said “Urine is an incredibly complex biofluid. We had no idea there could be so many different compounds going into our toilets.”
The chemical composition of urine interests physicians, nutritionists and environmental scientists because it reveals not only key information about our health, but what we eat and drink, what drugs we take, and what pollutants we may have been exposed to in our environment. This is all part of the relatively new science of metabolomics which is the study of the collection of metabolites or chemicals found in a particular organism or tissue. Many metabolites end up in your urine.
Dr. Wishart founded The Metabolomics Innovation Centreand it has become Canada’s national metabolomics core facility. He also led the effort to map the Human Metabolome which was completed in 2007 and it is the work that led to the latest finding.
This summer I caught up to Dr. Wishart on the campus of the University of Alberta where TMIC is located. TMIC had just received new Science and Technology Innovation Centre (STIC) funding, and I talked to him about metabolomics, his work, and what he does to get away from his work.
Is Twitter worth $15 billion? That's a big value placed on a lot of 140 character posts if it is, but that's the value some pundits are putting on the Twitter IPO expected to see the light of day in early 2014.
Whether or not that comes to pass, there is still a great deal of value in Twitter as it becomes the place many people turn to online for news, for updates from political hotspots, and for information links in many subject areas.
One of the subjects that is gaining more ground on Twitter is science. Here at Genome Alberta both our@GenomeAlberta and @mikesgene accounts use Twitter to spread information about us, about the life sciences, and about genomics related information.
Every couple of weeks we share some of the interesting posts we find on Twitter to help you become familiar with how Twitter is used, what you can find on Twitter, and to point you at some of the interesting links we've come across
If you have questions on how you can use Twitter in your project or research area we'd be pleased to offer some tips and ideas. Just drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime, here is our latest sampling from Twitter:
Genomics can be harnessed in a number of ways by Canada's agriculture, energy, mining, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, and health industries. There is always new research coming through the system but there are many established technologies already being used, many in early stage development, and more warming up in the laboratory.
For instance here in Alberta a costly issue in the energy sector is corrosion caused by microorganisms that have been identified as key players that accelerate the weakening of the pipe metal. Genomics were used to determine the metabolism of these organisms, and it was found that a common part of injection waters encouraged their growth and therefore enhanced corrosion. These findings resulted in changes in pipeline operations in several projects in Alberta.
To look at how genomics can be used to solve such problems Canada's Genome Centres ( often referred to as the Genomics Enterprise ) got together to develop a series of strategies to bring the power of genomics to industry. One of the first results is a series of papers funded by Genome Canada and co-led by the Genome Centres. The papers cover Agri-Food, Energy and Mining, Fisheries and Aquaculture and Forestry. Each strategy was developed in consultation with sector stakeholders and maps out challenges that are faced in ‘real world’ industry settings, and suggests how genomics-based solutions can address these issues.
Genome Alberta worked hard to be an active voice in all of its relevant sectors. With the Ontario Genomics Institute, we championed the writing of the Energy and Mining sector strategy. This involved key industry players such as the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, Suncor Energy, the Energy Resources Conservation Board and others as part of a steering committee to guide the initial direction of the strategy. We then brought together over 60 industry professionals to refine the document to ensure a comprehensive perspective. Though this was our main focus given Alberta’s prominence in the energy industry, we also participated in the Agri-Food steering committee and in the National Forestry Sector Genomics Strategy Workshop.
You can download the full papers to see how genomics can help Canadian industry grow and become more productive, be more competitive internationally, and find solutions to environmental problems.
To find out more about the sector strategies or about how genomics can be applied to your industry please contact Genome Alberta's Chief Scientific Officer Gijs van Rooijen.
Here's our bi-weekly collection of some of the more interesting posts we've come across on Twitter that we think will be of interest or relevant to Canada's Genomics Enterprise. We've checked the links so feel free to click away and see what got the attention of scientists, science writers and bloggers, and science communications people in Canada and around the world.
Of course don't forget to follow @GenomeAlberta and @mikesgene on Twitter.
Genome Alberta is pleased to be a major sponsor of the iGEM teams at the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge and encourages other research organizations to join us. iGEM is the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition which started off as a local competition at MIT in Boston and has grown to include 245 teams from around the world. University students and faculty advisors give up their summer and cram their fall schedule with time in the lab to design and build biological systems and operate them in living cells. The science of synthetic biology is already responsible for major breakthroughs in health and medicine and is poised to be one of the most significant medical tools to help deliver on the potential for personalized medicine.
Genome Alberta sponsors the Collegiate teams at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, and is a general sponsor for the University of Lethbridge teams involved in the Collegiate, Entrepreneurial, and High School divisions. The Lethbridge High School iGEMteam recently won the top “Green Brick”, “Best Bio Brick” and “Best Wiki” prizes at the High School Jamboree competition. Alberta Collegiate teams have fared well in past competitions and we’re confident they’ll do well in this year’s events.
iGEM Students in Alberta also receive significant support through geekStarter. Part of Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures’ Innovates Centre of Research Excellence (iCORE), geekStarter is a student-focused program supporting the next generation of Alberta’s innovation community. Student teams receive funding and access to experts in workshops to help prepare for their iGEM Regional Jamboree in Toronto in October and then (we hope!) on to the International Jamboree in Boston in November.
While we've talked a lot about why students are keen on taking on the challenge of an iGEMteam, what about their Faculty Advisors? Having your own lab or research project to manage can be time consuming but throw in a team of students and the challenge of your faculty role is even greater. Or is it?
Anders Nygren is an Associate Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Calgary and is also Co-director of the Centre for Bioengineering Research and Education. He's just one of many advisors working with iGEM teams around the world.
I talked with him about the University of Calgary iGEM team and his role as Faculty Advisor to this new generation of synthetic biologists. I'll be posting some other interviews with team advisors later and there is one common theme so far - you can let these young researchers loose and get some pretty good results. Here's my interview with him.
Canada produced 2.9 billion pounds of beef in 2012 and if producers can respond quickly to changes in worldwide consumer tastes and demand there is a market for all that beef and more.
That was one of the optimistic messages that seemed to be common at the International Livestock Congress held in Calgary last week.
Lowell Catlett from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University even went out on a limb and suggested there are no bounds in the demand for beef for the next several years. Much of the demand comes from emerging markets like China with a growing middle class and more money to spend and as Deane Collinson CEO of Calgary CoOp pointed out cultural diversity and changing tastes at home are creating new opportunities as well.
Some of the speakers such as Dave Kasko of JBS Foods (the new owner of the troubled XL processing facility) were quick to point out though that producers have to be responsive to these changing conditions and that they often don't move quickly enough.
The line up of speakers covered a lot of ground from the academic to the rancher and from retailers to economists.
Some of the speakers have made their presentations available and they are worth taking a look at if you want some of the latest information and trends but couldn't attend ILC:
Some students look forward to summer as a chance to get out of the classroom and an opportunity to earn some tuition money. Some scientists take a vacation away from the confines of academia. Then there is the up and coming crop of scientists who have their teeth sunk into research, who love the challenge of unravelling a science puzzle, and who don't want to trade the lab in for anything else quite yet.
These young people are often the ones who make an iGEMteam successful.
We're investing in the future of science in Alberta by supporting some of the province's teams entered in the international Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM) which started in 2003 as a local competition at MIT and has grown to include 5 iGEM Regions with Regional Jamborees in Hong Kong, Toronto, and Santiago for 190+ teams, followed by the World Championship Jamboree in Boston.
I've been visiting the Alberta teams so that I can talk to the students about their projects and why they are keen to commit so much time and energy to their projects.
I went to the lab the University of Alberta Collegiate team is calling 'home' or the summer and talked with Mark Rozema, Larry Zhang, Rick Tseng, Dawson Zeng, and Michael Esau.
The International Jamboree for iGEM High School teamswas held last week and the team from Lethbridge had a strong showing. They won the Grand Prize to bring home the GreenBrick Trophy. The team's wiki was judged as the Best Wiki, and they also won Best New BioBrick Part - Natural.
iGEM or International Genetically Engineered Machine is a competition that started as a local competition at MIT in 2003. It has grown to include 3000 plus students from 34 countries in Collegiate, Entrepreneurial, and High School Divisions.
Last year Genome Alberta was one of the sponsors for the University of Calgary team and this year we expanded our sponsorship to include the University of Alberta Collegiate team, and a group sponsorship for the 3 teams based in Lethbridge. We're pleased to offer our congratulations to the High School Division team for their strong showing.
The Collegiate and Entrepreneurial teams will go through a Regional Jamboree in Toronto in October and if they are successful, the International Jamboree in November at MIT. The High School teams however have different logistical considerations because of their school year and they had their International Jamboree in late June.
Just before the team left I visited the team in their lab at the University of Lethbridge and recorded an interview with U of L 4th year student Isaac Ward who is an advisor to the High School team, Erin Kelly who was on last year's High School team and is now a U of L student, and High School student Chris Isaac in his 2nd year with the team and who will be graduating from High School and attending U of L next year. Here's my conversation with them.
The full Lethbridge High School iGEM team in the lab at the University of Lethbridge:
Isaac Ward (Advisor) Kieran McCormack, Brooke Heatherington, Yoyo Yao, Marie Cooney and Erin Kelly
Mackenzie Coatham, Steven Trihn, Amrinder Grewal, Joseph Adams, Carissa Kirk, Elaine Bird, Fiona Spitzig
Mark Hasell, Wesley Mosimann, Brianna Carrels, Tessa Carrels, Katie Thomas
Austin Kothig, Adam Christiansen, Patrick O'Donnell, Orion Sehn, Chris Isaac, Thomas Kazakoff, Krista Fjordbotten
This is the second in a series of guest posts from Alberta iGEM teams. (check out the first post from the University of Calgary team) Genome Alberta is pleased to sponsor the Collegiate teams at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary. We're also a general sponsor of the Collegiate, Entrepreneurial, and High School teams from the University of Lethbridge and this is the first guest post from the team members. The teams are going to provide us with blog posts on their projects and activities over the summer then in the fall give us some insight into their preparations for the Regional and (we hope!) International Jamborees. We have also recorded some audio interviews with the teams and their Faculty Advisors and will be posting those over the coming weeks.
The installment from the U of L Collegiate team is courtesy of Jenna Friedt and Graeme Glaister.
Our names are Graeme and Jenna and we are members of the 2013 University of Lethbridge Collegiate International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team. The U of L has participated in the iGEM competition since 2007 and this year our team consists of 8 members at both the undergraduate and graduate level, majoring in various disciplines such as Neuroscience, Biochemistry, Computer Science, and Biological Sciences. Our project will utilize elements found in the genome of certain viruses to increase the amount of data that can be stored in a DNA sequence for expression of specific proteins in microorganisms. This data compression system will use programmed ribosomal frameshifting to code for two proteins in both the 0 and -1 reading frame. Viruses commonly use this system to minimize their genome size. The completion of our project will result in a new type of translational regulatory element that can be used by the synthetic biology community for a variety of applications in manufacturing, health, and energy technologies.
As an exciting way to start off the season, our team offered a hands-on activity for participating high school students at the Canada Wide Science Fair, hosted at the U of L in May 2013. The students were asked to identify a “mystery gene” sample using common laboratory procedures such as a restriction enzyme digest and agarose gel electrophoresis. We provided them with a brief presentation and worksheet to give them a better understanding of how restriction enzymes work and how they are used in synthetic biology. To conclude the activity, we engaged the students in a discussion about how ethics need to be integrated into synthetic biology and the types of questions synthetic biologists should be thinking about in terms of the social, environmental, and economic impacts of their research. Most of these students had not heard of synthetic biology before participating in the activity, so it was interesting for us to get their feedback on this important issue that the iGEM competition challenges teams to critically examine as an integral part of their projects.
Getting back to our own laboratory work, we have used the time while developing this year’s project to train our newer members in the laboratory techniques that will be used for the rest of the summer. We have decided to examine parts submitted by the U of L iGEM team in previous years to not only train new members but also further characterize parts within the open source iGEM Registry of Standard Biological Parts.
iGEM is an excellent opportunity for undergraduate students to experience what it is like to develop and work on a research idea. Working in a fun, challenging, and self-motivated environment among our peers is a great way to stimulate independent thinking and inspire students to pursue their academic goals. We are excited for this iGEM season and look forward to sharing our experiences along the way!
Finally, we want to congratulate the Lethbridge High School iGEM team who just returned home from their competition at MIT, where they won Best Wiki, Best New BioBrick Part (Natural), and Overall Champions for their project on the production of the hormone oxytocin in bacteria! Make sure to check out their winning Wiki at http://2013hs.igem.org/Team:Lethbridge_Canada.
This is the first in a series of guest posts from Alberta iGEM teams. Genome Alberta is pleased to sponsor the Collegiate teams at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary. We're also a general sponsor of the Collegiate, Entrepreneurial, and High School teams from the University of Lethbridge. We're particularly excited about the University of Calgary team as their project dovetails well with our E.Coli detection funding competition launched in late 2012 and we are providing some additional funding for that team out of our ALMA researching funding pool.
The teams are going to provides us with blog posts on their projects and activities over the summer then in the Fall give us some insight into their preparations for the Regional and (we hope!) International Jamborees. We have also recorded some audio interviews with the teams and their Faculty Advisors and will be posting those over the coming weeks.
Here is the first guest post from the University of Calgary's Ali Honarmand a 4th year student in Bioscience:
I am a member of iGEM Calgary, a team of twelve undergraduate students from the University of Calgary who are harnessing biological systems to rapidly detect harmful E. coli in beef.
iGEM, the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition, has been running yearly since 2003. For 2013, iGEM has grown to 216 undergraduate teams across the globe. Teams combine standardized parts drawn from a central registry to create novel systems, much as you would combine Lego blocks to build complicated structures. This notion of combining standardized parts and contributing new ones is central to synthetic biology, which uses molecular biological techniques to extract parts from nature, and engineering principles to combine them to create systems benefiting people.
Last year, we designed a system to ameliorate environmental effects of the Alberta oil sands. We enjoyed our most successful year to date. We won five of eight possible awards at the Americas West regional competition, and won the Best Human Practices award in the global finals at MIT, where we finished amongst the top 16 teams worldwide.
This year, we are tackling an entirely different problem: detection of harmful E.coli in Alberta’s beef industry. The project was sparked by Genome Alberta's 2012/13 Program on Research and Innovation Leading to Rapid Detection of Pathogenic E. coli. Incidents, including the 2012 XL Foods contamination of beef trim with E. coli O157:H7, have harmed public health, cost the beef industry millions of dollars, and damaged the reputation of Alberta beef. Reducing contamination risks is a vexing problem, as harmful E. coli are present in the guts of healthy cattle. Moreover, about 2% of these cattle are known as “super shedders” which pass great quantities of these bacteria in their faeces, causing increased colonization of neighbouring animals. Mistakes during slaughter of the animals can result in these bacteria being transferred from a cow’s hide or digestive system to meat destined for human consumption.
We can use synthetic biology to help solve problems surrounding bacterial contamination of meat. Leveraging nanotechnology, protein engineering, and material science, we are building a cheap and rapid-acting portable device to identify cattle shedding an abnormally large amount of harmful E. coli. These cattle can then be isolated from the rest of the population, reducing overall bacterial contamination amongst the herd. Our work has not been limited to the lab—conversations with ranchers, academics, meat processors, and feedlot owners have informed our system’s design. Ultimately, by reducing levels of harmful E. coli upstream of the slaughter process, we hope to reduce bacterial contamination of beef and improve human health.
Through this summer and fall, we will be working fervently to bring our system to fruition, and to continue our dialogue with industry so we may understand how our work can best be integrated into meat production. We will be making a series of blog posts along the way chronicling our progress. We invite you to follow along as we develop our project and prepare for the regional iGEM competition in October!
Twitter officially opened its Canadian office last week in Toronto. Right now it is mainly a marketing and advertising arm of Twitter but there is speculation around its future plans, and there is no doubt that it is a sign of the importance of Twitter in the Canadian marketplace.
In the 7 years since it started up, Twitter has attracted roughly 500 million users from around the world - though there are indications only about a third of them are really active users. That is a lot of activity to monitor and no, you're not expected to even try to keep track of it all or even a cross section.
The secret to using Twitter is to treat it like a network of business contacts or friend you stay in touch with because on Twitter it is who you know that counts You don't want to know or be known by celebrities, submerse, or those from an industry sector you never real with. You do however, want to stay in touch with people, institutions, or companies that can offer fresh ideas, relevant links, or help you amplify your own posts. ( kind of like the old commercial where "you tell 2 friends and they tell 2 friends, and so on and so on and so on")
As @GenomeAlberta or @mikesgene we use Twitter to follow a number of accounts connected to science organization or institutions, biotech companies and science writers and journalists and in turn we have about 2,000 similar followers between the 2 account. Once you get the hang of it all, it is manageable and useful.
Here is a very small sample of what we have seen come across our desktop over the last couple of weeks and we hope it will give you an idea of what a Twitter network has to say when it comes to science:
Are you interested in science communication? Looking to be involved in a Canadian-focused science communication environment? Genome Alberta and Canadian Science Publishing have co-founded a new blogging network which will launch in the Fall of this year.
We’re calling it Science Borealis: Blogging from Canadian Perspectives and it will feature Canadian science bloggers covering science from astronomy to zoology and everything in between. Science Borealis will be a one-stop shop for finding Canadian science blogs, whether you’re looking for information to inform policy, connect with researchers in your field, write a term paper, or just want to learn about neat stuff.
We have the name, we’ve secured the scienceborealis.cadomain and now we’re searching for a logo that will be a unique and instantly recognizable symbol of the network, both here at home and around the world. Yes, we’re shooting for the world because we think it is time Canada stood on its own in the global blogging arena. The logo will be used on our website and promotional material (print material, hats, etc.). The winning logo will be eye catching and original, taking a novel approach to graphically representing the Science Borealis name.
If you want to put your artistic and creative talents to work read on to find the details on what we are after:
The new GAPP ( Genomics Applications Partnership Program) is a bit of a departure for Genome Canada and Canada's 6 Genome Centres because it emphasizing research being integrated into the Bioeconomy. The GAPP funding is directed at building stronger links between academic research and industry use. It is designed to encourage integration of genomics research into everyday use and one of the measures of success of the program will be what commercial entities, products, or future collaborations result from the initial funding.
GAPP is being kickstarted with $30 million from Genome Canada and with the required co-funding from applicants, will result in a $90 million investment in applied genomics across Canada.
A copy of the Investment Strategy and Guidelines is available for you to download.
In the meantime, here is Genome Canada President and CEO Pierre Meulien talking about the new funding program.
Originally developed for Hepatitis C research, the KMT Mouse has shown potential in other areas of disease research. The mouse has a 'humanized liver' and can be used in research to combat malaria, Hepatitis B, and other diseases. I talked with Svetlana Sapelnikova last year at BIO in Boston and she dropped by the BIO Buzz area again this year to give me an update on how her company KMT Hepatech is doing.
(KMT by the way is another University of Alberta spinoff company. I seem to be coming across themmore often at BIO now.)
Malaysia is a country with a growing economy and one that is getting good reviews from sources such as the World Bank and Forbes Magazine. It is viewed as a safe place to do business with a stable economy and investment climate. It is also an economy that the government is using to build a strong and proactive biotechnology sector. Unlike many governments, the Malaysian Government has laid out a biotechnology policy and seems to have the political will to see it through.
Dr. Nazlee Kamal is the CEO of the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation an agency under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation and he was one of the more straightforward CEOs I talked with at BIO. He knows the potential the government is trying to sell and he knows is job is to maximize the economic return and the benefits to Malaysians even including giving a boost to the education system.
Akshaya Bio is a development stage company based in Edmonton working on a platform for producing vaccines free of adjuvants. An adjuvant is one or more substances added to a vaccine to enhance and direct the immune response to vaccine antigens. There has been some controversy of the use of adjuvants and Akshaya feels it has found a way around the problem.
Rajan George is Founder, President & Chief Scientific Officer and I noticed him coming and going from many locations and meetings around McCormick Place in Chicago. He's here with the BIOAlberta delegation so I grabbed him for a few minutes and had this conversation about Akshaya- the company and the name.
Natalie Ng wants to help find a way to diagnose and treat breast cancer. She's a junior at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, California but she certainly hasn't let that get in her way. She found the mentors and the lab access and started her own research project in breast cancer and biomarkers.
Not only has she had some success in the lab but the project also helped her win the 2013 Internationa' BioGENEius Challenge. Natalie’s project, titled, “Advancing Precision Medicine: MicroRNA Prognostic Signatures and Prediction Models for Distant Metastasis-Free Survival in Breast Cancer,” is investigating the role miRNAs play in mediating growth, invasiveness and metastasis of breast cancer cells.
She and second place winner Jiho Park of Irvine California came over to my location at BIO Buzz just a couple of hours after the award was announced and here is my interview with the 2 of them.
(by the way, Canadian Selin Jessa of Coquitlam, BC placed 4th and you can hear that interviewas well )
Every once in a while at an event such as BIO things just fall into place. Today was one of those occasions when I had the chance to talk with Durhane Wong-Rieger who had been part of a panel discussion yesterday about drug licensing. She is no ordinary speaker or interview guest.
If you are in the business of extracting compounds from biomass such as plants or algae you want to do it in a manner that is energy efficient, quick, and squeezes out as much of the natural compound as possible. Radient Technologies in Edmonton has developed a technique using microwave technology that fills those criteria and has been applying it to the food, nutraceutical, and pharmaceutical sector for almost 10 years now.
They're here at BIO to use the BioPartnering opportunites to expand their market and find new clients. The microwave technology has proved to be scalable, so the company is in a good position to go after some of the larger companies that attend BIO. To make the most of such a huge convention however you need to do some homework, find out who is going to be here and to use all your contacts to meet the right people and companies.
Stephane Gagne has been busy here in Chicago and it wasn't easy to catch up him in between meetings but he worked me into his schedule and we had this conversation on Tuesday afternoon.
In Alberta as in many parts of the world, there is a growing emphasis on taking basic research and applying it to commercially viable products. Academic and private research budgets are tight, the life sciences marketplace is highly competitive, and there are heavy demands on all aspects of public funding. Meros Polymers of Edmonton, Alberta is an example of an idea that started out in an academic setting, was nurtured by the University of Alberta, and is now a commercial company competing in the biotech sector. Apart from being a payback on public investment, the drug delivery system developed by Meros benefits people all over the world.
The President and CEO of Meros is here in Chicago and he came to the BIO Buzz area on Tuesday and we had this conversation.
CEAPRO is a biotech company based in Edmonton that is here in Chicago as part of the Alberta delegation led by BIOAlberta. They are capturing part of the 'green' revolution by providing botanical ingredients to manufacturers of personal care products and nutraceuticals, and to developers of therapeutics.
CEAPRO is also a pretty good example of what a small sized company can accomplish at the giant BIO International Convention. Last year was the first time CFO and VP Branko Jankovic attended BIO and he came away from the event with an opportunity that has paid off. This year he also brought along Megan Lee, CEAPRO's Director of Corporate Affairs, Planning, and Development to expand their range of contacts with an important biotech niche market.
I interviewed Branko last year and caught up with him and Megan this week to see how things have progressed since we last talked. Here's the interview I recorded with them earlier this week.
In the March provincial budget here was a measure of tough love handed out by the provincial government.
Enterprise and Advanced Education took a significant cut, universities were told to co-ordinate their activities better, and there was a definite trend toward government investments that will yield strong results with commercial potential. The research community was spooked and the high tech sector was a little nervous. Alberta still has 200 life sciences companies that contribute significantly to the economy so no one is hitting the eject button,
Rick Smith is Chair of BIOAlberta's Board of Directors. He's also a veteran when it comes to following Alberta's economic fortunes.
When he came up to my location in the BioBuzz Center we couldn't talk much about the Alberta bio-economy without talking first about the current bumps in Alberta's financial path.
This is the 20th year for the Biotechnology Industry Organization's International Convention and trade show. McCormick Place in Chicago is the host this year and with the space equal to that of roughly 4 football fields ( the American style ones ) it is one of only a handful of venues that can handle an event of this size. There are more than 16,000 registered attendees plus score of volunteers, staff, media and speakers.
You don't get to be this big until you've been small first and that certainly goes for BIO 2013 - it started out as a tent city of sorts.
And journalist John Sterling was there.
The International BioGENEius Challenge is a competition which starts at a regional level to produce 10 U.S. finalists, 2 Canadians, and 2 Australian finalists. Each finalist has ended up here in Chicago at the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s Annual International Convention.
Sounds like many other science competitions doesn't it?
What makes the BioGENEius stand out though is that it is for high school students who are doing projects in biotechnology and as you'll soon hear, the projects are above and beyond what you'd expect from many high school aged kids. Canada's 2 finalist are both from the West this year. Selin Jessa is from Coquitlam in B.C. and Arjun Nair is from Calgary, Alberta. Monday was the day they had to do their final presentations to the judges and they will find out the award winners later today (Tuesday)
In the meantime though, here is my conversation with Selin and Arjun that was streamed out live early Monday afternoon after they had finished their presentations to the judging panel. Click here to listen to a couple of very bright kids.
From 2008 to 2012 Wilf Keller was President of Genome Prairie which is part of Canada's genomic enterprise and network of Genome Centres. He is now President and CEO of Ag-West Bio launched in 1989 in Saskatchewan to help existing biotech companies grow, to assist in the launch of new initiatives, and in general to develop a strong bio-tech cluster for the province. As a Saskatchewan native with a doctoral degree specializing in Crop Science from the University of Saskatchewan and postdoctoral studies at the Max-Planck Institut für Biologie, in Tubingen, Germany, Wilf is well suited for his role at Ag-West Bio.
Ag-West is a membership based organization and many of the members are part of the Saskatchewan presence here at BIO in Chicago. I talked with Wilf yesterday just prior to the official opening of the trade show floor so you can here at lot of the activity in the background as they got set for the kick-off ceremony. Here's the interview.
BIO2013 officially got underway on Monday, but as attendees and delegates arrived in Chicago there were numerous pre-conference events and workshops. One of those events was a reception hosted by the Manitoba and Saskatchewan delegation.
When Gary Doer was Premier of Manitoba he came to BIO and many similar events on behalf of his province and now as Canada's Ambassador to the United States he is once again supporting the biotech sector and was one of the speakers at the Saskatchewan - Manitoba reception.
The room was crowded and the noise level high but I was able to find a corner where I could record an interview with Ambassador Doer.
An Alberta government delegation which includes Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk and Health Minister Fred Horne, various government staffers, and officials from Alberta Innovates, is here in Chicago to promote Alberta's biotechnology and health industries. It is the government's 9th visit to the annual Biotechnology Industry Organization's conference and trade show, and the provincial government finds productive partnerships and collaborations have come out of the trips.
Last year officials met with Eli Lilly which eventually resulted in the Alberta/Lilly Translational Research Collaboration Fund worth $1.4 million to support health research at Alberta's post-secondary institutions. Meetings this year include ongoing talks with the Government of Queensland, Australia, first started at BIO 2012, about a potential collaborations and commercial opportunities.
In the past Alberta has been represented by various Ministers including the Minister of Advanced Education and by the Premier. This year though is the first time Alberta's sitting Minister of Health has been on hand. Minister Horne dropped by Genome Alberta's BIORadio location at the BIO2013 Buzz Center in Chicago and I talked with him about his visit.
As with all the BIORadio guests we streamed the original interview live at http://genomealberta.ca/BIORadio but you can listen to the recorded audio interview here anytime.
I also recorded a video interview for BIO Buzz, click on 'read more' to see the video here on our site. Thank to the folks at BIO for sharing their video time and editing talents.
BIO 2013 is underway in Chicago. I'm here all week with roughly 15,000 of my closest friends from 65 countries. They represent 2,000 plus companies and cover the massive million square foot McCormick Place.
As a not-for-profit Genome Alberta isn't usually in a position to pay the fees to exhibit at an event like this and to join in the partnering events the registration, travel, and accommodation costs can add up quickly. But we have found a way to make contacts, fly the flag for Genome Alberta and for the life science sector in Alberta, meet government officials, and generally be part of the event at minimal cost.
All thanks to technology.
I'm the lone Genome Alberta representative here but I'm loaded with technical gear that sometimes give's airport security fits. There's the usual digital camera but I carry along the hardware and software needed to be a live 'broadcaster' from almost anywhere. There's a microphone, video camera, headsets, and a laptop with the video and audio card and software needed to stream audio or video from just about anywhere. As long as we can connect to the Internet we can be live and record the material for uploading later.
This week we'll be live on and off starting on Monday afternoon and running through to Thursday at sometime around noon. The live stream will be at http://genomealberta.ca and the edited and recorded material will on our blogs and on GenOmics News.
I've already talked with Gary Doer, Canada's Ambassador to the United States and this afternoon I'll be talking with Alberta's Deputy Premier and Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education Thomas Lukaszuk and with Fred Horne Alberta's Minister of Health and Wellness. One of the highlights I just finished up though has to be John Sterling, Editor of Genetic and Engineering Biotechnology News. A true New Yorker with all the energy you'd expect of a NY based journalist, he's been to all 20 BIO International events.
The interviews and posts will start rolling out later this afternoon so visit these pages often.
New genomics technology is already playing a major role in dealing with some of the challenges we're facing today.
Personalized medicine has altered the way certain breast cancers are treated, can predict drug reactions, and deal with infectious disease. In the agricultural sector genomics has identified strains of plants that are resistant to disease, insects or temperature extremes, and genetics has helped improve meat and milk production in livestock. Genome Alberta's work in the area of forestry is helping to deal with the mountain pine beetle epidemic and we're looking at ways that microbes can be used to clean up tailings ponds.
All of these new technologies introduce a whole set of questions that go beyond the basic science. There are ethical, economic, environmental, legal, and societal questions raised - the Genome Centres refer to it as GE3LS.
The GE3LS representatives from across Canada have been putting together a list of some of the conference, workshops, and meetings where issues relevant to genomics in society are going to be part of the discussions and we'd like to share the list with you. We'll try to keep it updated and if you'd like something added to the list, just drop me a note and I'll include it.
About 2 months ago I was getting ready to attend the Science Online Conferencein Raleigh, North Carolina which Genome Alberta helps sponsor and which is always an informative collection of presentations and people. Following that event I was scheduled to speak at the Science and Technology Awareness Network (STAN) annual conference in Toronto.
The theme of my presentation in Toronto was that Canada lags behind in public discussions about science and as in so many other areas, we're being lost in then static from south of us.
Our Twitter accounts of @GenomeAlberta and @mikesgene now have over 2,000 followers. That's a lot of amplification for our posts, links, and comments and in turn we follow some interesting people and organizations connected with science communication.
Apart from regular re-tweets of many of the postings, every 2 weeks we bring you a small sample of what we come across and that we would like to share to help bring Canada's science community into the online sciece world.
We've checked the links and the accounts connected to the postings and think you should as well.
Here's the latest:
Genome Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), in partnership with the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium, have announced the 17 successful projects resulting from the 2012 Large-Scale Applied Research Competition in Genomics and Personalized Health. Alberta has the lead on 1 of the approved projects, is a co-lead on a second project, and Alberta researchers are involved in a couple of the other projects. We've done a separate blog post on that Alberta involvement and with congratulations to all the successful researchers, here are brief summaries of all the approved projects:
80% of Canadians are connected to the Internet and they spend an average of 17 hours a week online. Many of them gravitate to Twitter as a quick and easy way to track and post information, connect with potential consumers, related businesses, or influencers.
Genome Alberta uses Twitter for those same purposes and you can follow @GenomeAlberta or @mikesgene to see how we use it.
If you're still hesitant about the value of Twitter in the realm of science we regularly post a very small sample of the information that flows through our accounts every 2 weeks. Here's what some of our connections had to say:
A lot of information flows through the online world. Every 60 seconds 700,000 messages end up on Facebook, 2 million videos are watched on YouTube, and Pinterest gets 1,100 visitors. Twitter has 175,000 characters pass through its system.
Every 2 weeks we share some of our more interesting science finds on Twitter to help you cut through the noise and find the interesting, the relevant, and sometimes, the fun that is out there for the research community. It is obviosuly a pretty small slice of information but we hope it will tease you enough to sign on to Twitter and follow @mikesgene and @GenomeAlberta .
We'll help you navigate the twists and turns of scence in an online world.
A Lab Grammy isn't quite like going up against Foster the People for their Houdini video in the real Grammys or Carly Rae for her Call Me Maybe song of the year nomination, but you have to give the Calgary students top marks for going up against the best for Lab Parody videos. The Calgary nomination is the first International nominee for the BioTechniques Journalcontest for science parody videos.
The @iGEMCalgary Team is taking on Case Western School of Medicine, Marshall University, and 3 finalists from different departments at the University of California Berkeley.
You have until 10:00a Mountain / noon Eastern on February 13th to vote, so get on over to http://www.biotechniques.com/news/biotechniquesNews/biotechniques-339828.html#.URU_oWdLqSp and give iGEM Style your vote.
Genome Alberta is one of the sponsors of the Calgary iGEM Team and we're pleased with their showing this year at the National Jamboree in Boston and with their blog postings to our site. A talented bunch in synthetic biology and in the video realm.
Now go vote !
Welcome to the first collection of bits and pieces from Twitter for 2013. With the overwhelming amount of traffic that passes through Twitter every day it is is to get lost or simply give up and ignore the tool. Success in sharing your own posts, or gleaning information from the 140 character post from elsewhere requires some planning and some thought. Who to follow, when and where to post, crafting your messages and providing some added value to your followers, are all important considerations.
The science community in general has been slow to adopt Twitter so to help ease you into the micro-blogging world we share a few samples with you every 2 weeks here on the Mikenomics blog. We check the links to make sure they won't lead you astray and we try to bring you a cross section of information ranging from 'omics' sciences to the business of biotech and on to the art of communicating your work.
If you are unfamiliar with Twitter here are a few crib notes:
The @ symbol is used as part of a specific user account name
A # or hashtag as it is often called is used to categorize a post. Hashtag are free form and though some such as #scicomm (for science communication) have become common practice, a user can use any hashtag to make an item searchable
By default Twitter will shorten a url. User can choose which services ( i.e. owly or bitly ) to use. In our Twitter Snips roundup we will sometimes give you the full url to help hi-lite specific sites
RT is short for Re-Tweet which simply means the post is not original but is being passed along. PRT is for Partial Re-Tweet and MRT is a Modiified Re-Tweet. (don't you love online jargon! )
So armed with this new information for you here is this week's collection of Tweets:
Every 2 weeks ( well just about every 2 weeks ! ) we bring you a selection of posting from the wonderful world of Twitter. We check the links to make sure they are safe and try to bring you a (very) small cross-section from the hundreds of thousands of science tweets that pass trough Twitter every week.
Here are this week's selections:
@2020science Parents who use @23andMe with their kids - how do you set up the accounts so you have full access?
On December 7th, 2012 Genome Alberta hosted a webinar for researchers interested in the Genome Alberta, Alberta Innovates BioSolutions, Genome Canada, Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, (and with the support of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs) competition to develop a new and rapid detection method for pathogenic E.Coli.
The webinar included presenters and attendees from industry, government, and academic sectors and was designed to cover the issues and challenges found in food processing environment and the very real regulatory requirements.
We're pleased to make the full webinar available here to anyone who missed it, or for those coming late to the process but are interested in the research competition.
We have also posted the individual webinar presentations here on our website:
To help in the exchange of ideas and foster more collaboration, Genome Alberta held a webinar for 89+ participants on Friday, December 7th and after the webinar was over launched an interactive forum to continue the discussion. We see the Forum as being a new step for research competitions like this one for several reasons. First off it is an open forum. Though users will have to register and cannot post anonymously but anyone can participate - not just a closed community of interested parties. Secondly the forum seeks to bring together researchers, regulators, and industry to exchange ideas and information to make sure there is as little time spent re-inventing the wheel as possible. After all, a test that shines in a lab setting but can't work inside a packing plant is of little value and is not funding dollars well spent. Finally the forum is an experiment of sorts in itself. Genome Centre funded initiatives generally don't take the approach of opening up the discussion in such a forum. We hope that it will bring together collaborators who may not have found each other in the usual way and we hope the idea works well enough to try it again in other areas of our work.
For more information on the overall research effort visit our blog post at http://genomealberta.ca/blogs/in-search-of-a-smarter-and-cheaper-test-for-ecoli.aspx
To take part in the forum please go to http://ecolidetection.genomealberta.ca
Genome Alberta will act as the forum organizer and moderator but we look to government, industry, academia, and even consumers to make the forum valuable to everyone. Feel free to add your comments, ideas, links, documents and questions. We’re also open to ideas on how to expand the forum and make it valuable to all of you. Anyone can visit the forum and read the content but you’ll have to register to participate.
We have also made the presentations from the Dec.7th webinar available here on our website:
Welcome to another installment of BioRadio, the irregular series from Genome Alberta where I take the opportunity to sit down with some of the top people in the life sciences. This time around I was at the Genome Canada / Gairdner Foundation event in Ottawa. Genomics: The Power and the Promise was a unique event that celebrated accomplishments in genomics over the last decade and looked to the future of genomics in human health, agriculture, the environment, and as a driver of the bioeconomy. Kevin Keough is chair of Genome Atlantic's Board of Directors, one of the founding Board members for Genome Canada, and a past member of Genome Alberta's Board. He also has a long list of other credits ranging from CEO of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research to being a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Science. No matter where you look in his list of accomplishments though, you'll probably find a connection to genomics. This has given Kevin lots of opportunity to look at how genomics can be put to use, how it has advanced over the years, and how it will play a role in our future.
I caught up wih Kevin before the start of the afternoon sessions on the 27th.
Generally the idea of genomics leads people to think about human genetics, in agriculture perhaps in the form of genetically modified organisms, and more recently in the area of personalized medicine and the highly publicized human genome project. Genomics covers much more ground than that of course and most recently the use of genomics as a tool for bioremediation has become not only an area being researched more, but is also finding practical applications.
Naturally occuring microbes can be harnassed to chew up some of the potentially toxic products in tailings ponds from oil sands development or mining activities. In the case of the BP Gulf oil spill microbial activity wasn't deployed as a tool, but the naturally occuring microbes that 'eat' hydrocarbons flourished and played a role in the dissipation of the spill.
This morning as part of the Genome Canada / Gairdner FoundationGenomics: The Power and the Promise event in Ottawa, Gerrit Voordouw a University of Calgary and Genome Alberta funded researcher will be part of a panel that is examining the latest in environmental genomics. I tracked him down last week and got some of the speaking points from his presentation that I can share to help offer some insight into this aspect of genomics technology.
The problem: Fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) will remain an important component of our energy supply. In view of known environmental problems, associated with their use, it is important that fossil fuel production and extraction are done with the smallest possible environmental footprint.
The genomics solution: Characterization of microbial communities in hydrocarbon resource environments (oil sands and associated tailings ponds, oil fields, coal-bed methane fields) has indicated the nature of the microbial communities in these environments. This ranges from highly anaerobic, methanogenic communities in oil fields, tailingsponds and pipelines to more aerobic, hydrocarbon-degrading communities in coal beds and oil sands.
The value proposition: Genomics-enabled use of the catalytic power of microbial communities in hydrocarbon resource environments allows more intelligent management of resource extraction. This includes improved prevention of greenhouse gas emissions from tailingsponds, better management of microbial communities in pipelines to prevent corrosion and, in the longer term, the potential design of more environmentally friendly bitumen production technologies.
The hurdles for uptake or implementation: "Metagenomics for Greener Production and Extraction of Hydrocarbon Energy" has good potential to impact operations in the fossil fuel industry. The biggest hurdle for uptake and implementation is lack of knowledge of this area in the oil and gas industry at all levels. This is slowly changing as major oil and gas companies are now starting to hire microbiologists, bioinformaticians and others for the expertise they bring.
Gerrit and his team aren't the only ones at the University of Calgary working on microbes for bioremediation. Also hard at work over the past summer and into the fall was a U of C iGEM(Internationally Genetically Engineered Machines) team. The annual iGEMcompetition that grew out of an MIT competition is focused on promoting the advancement of synthetic biology and Genome Alberta sponsored the Calgary team this year (they made it to through the regional jamborees to the final in Boston by the way), and next year we hope to be able to expand that sponsorship to other Alberta iGEM teams. This year the Calgary team worked on developing toxin-sensing and degrading organisms to detect and destroy the toxic compounds in tailings ponds. You can find more on the team's work at http://2012.igem.org/Team:Calgary
There are a few 'rock stars' in the field of genetics and Eric Lander is one of them. He's a top science advisor to Barack Obama, Time Magazine named him one of the Most Influential People in the Worldin 2004, and he was one of the people who made a significant contribution to the success of the Human Genome Project.
He is also one of the names that came up several times today as I talked to people at the Genome Canada/ Gairdner Foundation event, Genomics: The Power and the Promise.
I did several interviews today with some of the Genome Centre 'family' and among those was Steve Armstrong, President and CEO of Genome Atlantic. He was fortunate to be part of a breakfast meeting with Eric Lander and like many others throughout the day, Steve had a lot to say aboutEric Lander's take on the future of genomics.
A decade ago the relatively new science of genomics in Canada saw 2 important events. One was an event organized by the Gairdner Foundationthat brought together some of the best scientists and researchers in genomics. The other was the creation of Genome Canada, a not-for-profit organization that brings together partners from academic, industry, and government sectors to initiate and manager large scale genomics project.
This week the Gairdner Foundation and Genome Canada have come together to hold another landmark genomics event which once again brings together some of the best minds in the genomics field. Genomics: The Power and the Promise was held at the Ottawa Convention Centre and featured names like Eric Lander, Svante Paabo, Michael Hayden, Elizabeth Edwards, Bartha Knoppers and many more.
I've been fortunate to be able to interview top researchers in the biotechnolgy field at several of the annual conferences hosted by the Biotechnology Industry Organization in the U.S. and for the Power and Promise I have once again taken BioRadio on the road and talked to several of the people attending the event.
Today's first interview was with Pierre Meulien, CEO and President of Genome Canada and I started off by asking him what were some of the highlight from the first morning. Here's the rest of the interview.
The Canadian Science Policy Conference has come to Western Canada and is at the Telus Spark Centre in Calgary.
Fused Logic is providing the live video stream for the event so be sure to check here on November 5th and 6th throught the day to see selected sessions.
Here is another in a series of guest posts from the University of Calgary iGEM team being sponsored in part, by Genome Alberta. This post from Iain George talks about the Americas West Jamboree at Stanford.
Genomics really is everywhere, and nowhere was anyone more excited about it than at the International Genetically Engineered Machine(iGEM) America’s West Jamboree at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. The Jamboree was a competition between teams of undergraduate students from research institutes throughout Western North America. Teams were there to present their projects that aimed to solve scientific questions and problems confounding our world and to fight for a coveted spot at the iGEM World Wide Championships. There was a huge range of projects being shown off from teams working on producing spider silk to fortifying rice with vitamins, to bio-remediating the oil sands tailings ponds.
This year’s competition was particularly steep with teams from many prestigious institutions, including Stanford, Berkley and Washington. Our team, iGEM Calgary, presented “Detect and Destroy: Engineering FRED and OSCAR.” Our projects aim was to develop a way of electrochemically detecting toxic compounds in Alberta’s oil sand tailings ponds, and then removing these toxins by converting them into non-hazardous hydrocarbons for their recovery and use.
We were ecstatic to be chosen as one of the three finalists at the awards ceremony and were then thrust upon the stage. It was an intense process, the second we were announced we had to get on the stage to present for a shot at the Regional Trophy. After presenting and waiting with baited anticipation, we found out that we had been named the first runner up for our region. Even cooler, we won an astonishing five of the nine special awards: Best Model, Best Poster, Best Wiki, Best Human Practices Advance, which was a tie with Arizona State and a Safety Commendation. This finish was unprecedented in the history of the iGEM competition.
Looking ahead to the next few weeks, we are back in our lab and on our “sleepless nights in the lab” routine. The iGEM World Championshipswill be held in Boston at MIT from November 2nd to 5th. Our team is working non-stop to bolster our project and our chances of placing high at the championships. We are so excited to be presenting in the next round and can’t wait to get to share with everyone what this once in a genome experience is like!
The 3rd Livestock Gentec Conference got under way this morning in Edmonton at the Matrix Hotel in Edmonton. The theme for this year is "Turning Local Production into Global Advantage" which to borrow Gentec CEO Graham Plastow's words boils down to using genomics technologies to increase the profitability and efficiency of livestock operations.
There was a range of presenters this morning ranging from academic, government and industry researchers to producers who rely on the health of the beef industry to feed their family. The inclusion of working producers was good because many of the livestock research conferences I've been to present great research ideas but often skip the reality of running a day-to-day cattle operation or feedlot.
I couldn't summarize every presentation today but I will run through the presenters, provides some links to their work, and include some of the tweets that came out of the conference. Livestock Gentec has been trying to encourage the use of social media at the conference and though they have carried most of the load on their own accounts so far, there has been good pickup from the attendees.
The Canadian Science Policy Conference is coming West for the first time. Past conferences have been held in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal but with the National importance of strong science policy it was time for the event to make an appearance out here. It is being held in Calgary on November 5th - 7th, 2012 at the Telus Spark Science Centre. For more information on the conference please go to http://www.cspc2012.ca/
There is an excellent lineup of speakers and panel discussions that will look at science policy from a variety of perspectives. Keynote speakers include Gary Goodyear, the Federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, and Stephen Khan, Alberta's Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education. Other presenters include University of Calgay President Elizabeth Cannon, Preston Manning from the Manning Centre and Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail. You can find a complete agenda at http://www.cspc2012.ca/glance.php
As part of the event, the organizers want to capture some of the discussion both inside and outside of the formal sessions. They have put out a call for proposals and want to hear from interested media companies or online media services. The deadline has been extended so if you are interested now is the time to get your proposal in. Submissions and questions should go to Susan Jellnick at the Canadian Science Policy Centre at email@example.com
In the meantime here is the full RFP:
Twitter had an incredible 38.2 million unique visitors in August according to a recent comScore survey but it is still has a long way to go to gain acceptance with the science community. As a communication tool, Twitter is mobile-friendly, quick to use, and with a little care and attention to how you use it, can deliver a wealth of information.
For many in the science community it is a leap they are hesitant to make but it is a leap that can propel science communication a long way forward.
Mark Bertolini of Aetna Inc was recently quoted in the Wall Street Journalas saying: "You have to take some chances. You have to put yourself out there."
And that is exactly the kind of chance that scientists and researchers need to take to put their science "out there".
There is an active community on Twitter which promotes social media as a tool for science communication ( find them using the hashtag #scio13 or check #scicomm ) and every year they hold the Science Online Conference which Genome Alberta helps to sponsor. They range from science writers to field researchers to lab scientists linked togther with a common passion for science and for promoting science.
Why not get a Twitter account and follow @GenomeAlberta or @mikesgene to get an idea of how Twitter can be put to use.
In the meantime we give you a quick peek every 2 weeks into what Twitter can offer to anyone interested in the life sciences. We choose a small cross section of posts we think you'll find interesting or informative and that might give you a few idea on how to apply it to your own field of interest.
The links are safe but if you find a bad one be sure to let us know.
Here are this week's snips:
The Tria Project led by Joerg Bohlmann at the University of British Columbia and Janice Cookeat the University of Alberta is using genomics, insect and fungal biology, tree physiology, population genetics and ecological modeling to tackle the Mountain Pine Beetle that has destroyed so much of Western Canada's forest areas. The project is funded in part by Genome Alberta, Genome BC, Genome Canada and the University of Alberta and has already uncovered new information about the interaction between the tree, the beetle, and the blue-stain fungus carried by the beetle, and which ultimately kills the tree.
Janice Cooke was invited to Genome Alberta's Board of Director's meeting on September 25th, to update the Board on the progress of the project, the new information the project team has gathered and what the next steps are in studying the mountain pine beetle. She shared her presentation with us and we are pleased to be able to offer it here for you so you can learn more about the genomics of the mountain pine beetle and a bit about what the team has been able to do with their findings. (the presentation is best viewed in full screen format)
If you'd like to get even deeper into the subject the Tria Project will be presenting a series of e-lecture throughout October. Go to http://cif-ifc.org/site/electure for more information.
Here is another in a series of guest posts from the University of Calgary iGEM team being sponsored in part, by Genome Alberta. This post from Iain George talks about the preparations for the aGEM competition which helps prepare the Alberta teams for the Stanford regional competition in October.
Venturing to Edmonton for a jamboree was an adventure I never expected I would get to experience during my time as a student the University of Calgary. But volunteering for the University of Calgary’s International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team this past year has made that adventure a reality. This past weekend, my team was able to share FRED and OSCAR, our synthetic biology oil sands remediation system that we developed over the summer, with other local iGEM teams.
Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, a sponsor of iGEM teams in Alberta, organized a mock iGEM Jamboree allowing these teams to test their presentations in preparation for the fall competition at Stanford University. Even though this event has no effect on our final standing in iGEM, we faced substantial rivalry from the University of Alberta (U of A), University of British Columbia (UBC), and the University of Lethbridge (U of L). This competition provided our team with insight into how we should refine our presentation and project in the remaining month prior to the official jamboree.
Our lab is bustling nearly 24/7 with team members committed to bringing our project to completion. This work is diverse: in the lab, we are assembling and manipulating DNA; at the workbench, we are soldering together electric circuits for our biosensor prototype; and on the computer, we are developing a video game intended to introduce the general public to synthetic biology. Although this pace is tiring as we struggle to meet competition deadlines, our team is driven by our goal for success in the iGEM competition.
When the U.S. President delivers his State of the Union Address everyone listens to hear the good news. When we get a state of the economy update from a bank we are waiting to hear any news - good or bad. But how about state-of-the-science? Not generally as newsworthy but when it comes to such an important and emerging science as genomics, a state-of-the-science is well worth attending.
Ten years ago when the science of genomics was earning public profile and scientific importance, the Gairdner Foundation brought together some of the world's finest minds for a series of signature presentations examining the state-of-the-art of the comparatively young science. Although our ability to peer at, understand, and manipulate the building blocks of life was very much in its infancy, genomics' progress was already hinting at things to come.
Gairdner also marked the occasion with awards to some of the notable people in genomics: Philip Green, Eric Lander, Maynard Olson, Sir John Sulston (Nobel),Craig Venter, Michael Waterman, Robert Waterston, and Jean Weissenbach, and that year also had Awards of Merit to James Watson and Francis Collins.
Today, the power and promise of genomics is evident across many scientific disciplines and is leading to significant new applications and benefits in agriculture, energy, environment, fisheries, forestry, human health, mining and other aspects of Canadian society. Genomics is proving to be a rich avenue of exploration for curiosity-driven research as well as a fundamental underpinning for work that serves as an important foundation for the life sciences community.
To celebrate the advancements in genomics since 2002 event Genome Canadaand the 6 Genome Centres from across Canada are once again joining with the Gairdner Foundation to bring many of the scientists back together for a 2 days conference. It will also mark 12 years of Genome Canada progress in helping to make Canada a leader in the genomics sciences.
On November 27th and 28th the past honourees will be joined by some of the world's foremost researchers in genomics to provide a critical look at scientific progress and achievements in disciplines such as evolutionary genomics, cancer, epigenomics, pharmacogenomics, biofuels, environmental remediation, fisheries & aquaculture, food security and safety, and more.
The ENCODE project dominated the science side of Twitter for a few days but I haven't gone overboard on loading up this edition of Twitter Snips with those postings as I'm sure you've seen it all. As always though I've looked for some of the interesting and entertaining bits from across Twitter. The links are good but if you find any bad ones please let me know.
Be sure to follow @mikesgene and @GenomeAlberta to help you keep up-to-date with the latest Twitter news and comments with a science twist.
Genome Canada in partnership with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Alberta Innovates – BioSolutions(AI-Bio) have received registrations for their ‘Application of Genomics Tools to the Detection and Surveillance of Listeria monocytogenes’ competition. The RFA is seeking proposals to support research that will demonstrate how genomics-based research/technologies can contribute to a more evidence-based approach to detection and surveillance of Listeria. The project aims to map the genome of Listeria bacteria so that more rapid tests can be developed. Current test methods take a minimum of five days. Genomic techniques could improve accuracy and decrease testing time significantly, allowing for the CFIA and industry to more effectively identify unsafe foods.
Five registrations were received by Genome Canada and partners. One registration, ‘Detection & Surveillance of Listeria monocytogenes using Next-Generation Genomics Tools’, is from a team led out of Alberta, Dr. Linda Chui of the University of Alberta Dr. Jian Zhang of Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures and Dr. Matthew Gilmour of the National Microbiology Laboratory Public Health Agency of Canada. Alberta researchers are also co-applicants on one other registration.
The summary table of the registrations is available as an Excel spreadsheet.
Successful registrants can download the complete application form.
Full-applications are due to the respective Genome Centres on October 2nd, 2012. Genome Canada and partners will announce the successful proposal in mid-December.
I'm going to a Jamboree. Not the Boy Scouts' type Jamboree I remember and definitely not a music jamboree, but rather the aGEM Jamboree in Edmonton on September 15th and 16th.
If you're not exactly sure what the heck a GEM is, in this case it stands for Genetically Engineered Machines, iGEM is the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition, and aGEM is the Alberta Genetically Engineered Machines Jamboree.
The iGEM competition is a University undergraduate competition (however there are separate high school and entrepreneurial competitions) where teams apply the science of synthetic biology to design and create biological systems using 'BioBricks' from the Registry of Standard Biological Parts . For instance last year the iGEM team from Lethbridgeentered a project called "Tailings pond clean up kit, a synthetic biology approach to bioremediation" which used genetically modified organisms to degrade or remove toxic compounds from tailings ponds. All the biological parts came from the available collection of genetic bits and pieces that are mixed and matched to perform the functions needed for the project.
iGEM started in 2003 as an undergraduate course at MIT and has grown to 195 teams from all over the world registered for this year's international competition. Alberta is always well represented with teams from the Universities of Lethbridge, Calgary, and Edmonton. The regional finals for the Americas West will be held next month at Stanford University and it can be a grueling process. The teams have to produce a public Wiki with all the data and analysis from their project, prepare displays, do presentations, and are grilled by a team of science judges.
To prepare the Alberta teams for the regional event, Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures hosts the aGEM Jamboree in Edmonton. The Alberta and B.C. teams have been invited in the past, and this year AI has opened the invitation to any Canadian team wanting to get in on the prep work. A group of Canadian and U.S. judges will review the 20 minute presentations from each team and judge them in the same way the actual iGEM judging will happen. They will also offer 1-on-1 coaching and mentoring to the teams to help them be as well prepared as they can be when they head to Stanford in October. Though there is a trophy awarded to the best aGEM entrant, the weekend gives the participants a better feel for what the actual event is like and offers feedback to refine and improve their projects.
Social media and science aren't always considered in the same thought and the science community often views social media as nothing more than a marketing tool. There are uses beyond marketing as you can read in this blog post "Social media is more than simply a marketing tool for academic research".
One of the many social media tools we use at Genome Alberta is Twitter, and if you want a focusing exercise try writing a useful 140 character tweet while sticking to full words. Not an easy task, but on Twitter you would be surprised at what can be said or linked to without sacrificing meaning.
Every 2 weeks we bring you a small peek inside Twitter with a definite emphasis on what is being said by scientists, science writers, science media, and anyone else connected to life science resarch.
Here is a quick look a that world and to see more, be sure to follow @mikesgene and @GenomeAlberta.
Genome Alberta is once again sponsoring 2 scholarships to the Banff Centre Science Communications Program,
This a a prestigious program led by well known science broadcaster and journalist Jay Ingram, and every year features a top lineup of science communication professionals from around the world to lead the attendees through the complex science communication process. Participants look at the possibilities that lie in print, visual, multimedia, and social media as a tool to give science an increased presence in today's culture. The residency program started up on August 11th and runs through to the 25th.
Here are this year's recipients of Genome Alberta's $2,500 scholarships.
Still wondering what impact Twitter has beyond what seem to be isolated 140 character posts?
Consider the last few weeks of the Olympics games in London where 2 athletes were expelled from the games for racist tweets, NBC took it on the chin repeatedly for its tape delayed coverage, athletes skirted sponsorship rules and used Twitter to promote their own sponsor's products, and many athletes jointed together to launch a "WeDemandChange" campaign on Twitter to oppose sponsorship restrictions.
Twitter can be an effective tool and I was able to use it recently to answer a series of questions on Listeria thanks to input internally from our Chief Scientific Officer Gijs van Rooijen and from @JATetro at the University of Ottawa who I know through social media. The list of questions were from a media inquiry and covered a wide range from the technical to the statistical. With the help of Twitter I was able to answer all the question in a few hours.
To give you some insight into what you can find on Twitter we put together a bi-weekly list of posts that @mikesgene or @GenomeAlberta have found in their stream and that we think you'll find useful. The links are safe but if you find any problems please let me know.
It is a good article that put some perspective on the package of environment, genetics, health records, and trust you need when you want to start improving a cattle herd.
We posted David's UCVM presentation to Slide Share but here it is if you want to get a quick Genetics 101 lesson drawn from the world of livestock genetics.
And a note to any group or organization that would like their own presentation on the world of genetics - we are a not-for-profit funding organization and want to share what we have learned over the years. Send me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll arrange for someone to come out to talk with your group or classroom about genetics in general or about some of the specific projects we have going ranging from agricultural genetics, to the Mountain Pine Beetle, or the use of genomics in bioremediation.
When Twitter crashed in the hours leading up to the start of the Summer Olympics in London, users realised just how much they had come to rely on the social media site for timely information.
As the television coverage of the events began, NBC also realised how important Twitter had become as they showed tape delayed coverage of the sports hours after Twiitter users had posted results, pictures, and links to video. For all the its quirks and occassional annoyances, Twitter is here for a while yet and has shown a key role in circulating information and opinion around the world.
It is gaining a stronger role in science communication and as @mikesgene and @GenomeAlberta, we have become well known for our role in using Twitter and other forms of social media. I regularly speak at conferences in Canada and the U.S. about using social media in government and not-for-profit organizations and find that if you want to find some of the best examples of how it is used look to the folks in Washington D.C. Canada is catching up slowly and we'll continue to do our part to develop a good online science community up here.
Every 2 weeks we share some of what we have found on Twitter that we think you will find useful and interesting. The links are all good, but if you find a bad one in there let me know at email@example.com
guest post contributed by Kim Cheel, Genome Alberta
On Thursday, July 19, Genome Alberta put a team together to participate in the 13th Annual ARTC Chili Cook-Off. There were 6 prizes in 2 categories to be won overall. In the Chili category, prizes were awarded for Spiciest, Most Creative, and I Want Seconds!, while in the mocktail category, prizes were awarded for Most Authentic, Best Creation, and Best Presentation. Our Team, combined with an employee from the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation decided we should be the 'Texas of Canada'. With our theme decided upon, we began to brainstorm what our chili would be like, and what mocktail we should use. Using wikipedia as our guide, we learned that in days past, chili didn't even include meat. We also learned there is quite the controversy surrounding the addition of beans and other vegetables to the chili. Texas style chili, as described on wikipedia, contains no beans, and little to know vegetables (beside chili peppers of course!). With that in mind, we set out to make our chili as "Texas" as we could. We marinated stewing beef in a homemade wheat ale, then browned it with freshly rendered suet. Then, we added tomatoes, onion, and various spices, and topping it off with dark chocolate to really bring out the flavor. By the time the chili was done, the meat was practically dripping off itself. Delicious! Combined with homemade jalapeño and chedder cheese cornbread, there was a near constant stream of people to try our wares. ( our creation was a variation on a recipe in Swerve Magazine if you want to check the original inspiration)
The mocktail proved to be more of a challenge. Our plan of attack was to find an alcholic drink, and make it as real as possible without the alcohol. We found a recipe for a Texas Style Long Island Iced Tea. It called for 1 fl. oz vodka, 1 fl. oz dry gin, 1 fl. oz triple sec, 1 fl. oz rum, 1 fl. oz tequila, 1 (12 fl. oz) can or bottle cola, 1 wedge lemon, and 1 wedge lime. Trying to mimic the taste of all those lacquers proved to be difficult! We knew orange juice could replace the triple sec as well as tequila, and we could easily get our hands on some rum extract to give it that nice flavor with none of the added punch, but the gin was tricky. Gin comes from fermented juniper berries, so we soaked juniper berries to mimic that gin taste. Our "Genome Alberta's Alberta Style Dry Long Island Iced Tea" included the following:
- 16 tbsp Juniper berries
- 2/3 cup water
- 6 shakes coriander seed
- 8 tbsp rum extract
- 6 tbsp lemon juice
- 6 tbsp lime juice
- 5 tbsp orange juice
- 4 tbsp iced tea
- 6 tbsp pineapple juice
- 1 tea bag (Earl Grey) soaked in 1/2 cup hot water
- 1 (12 fl. oz) can or bottle cola.
After several sips of the real deal, and our concoction, we came to the conclusion, we had got as close as were going to get. While the drink did not win any prizes, people came back for seconds and thirds, and were impressed at our ingenuity.
The weather was perfect, and it didn't take long before we were completely out of chili (two large croc pots full) and drinks. It was a great opportunity to showcase our skills not commonly used in the office, as well as network with other companies in a fun and hearty manner!
Welcome to the first electronic only version of Genome Alberta's Annual Report.
To keep printing and distribution costs down and to give us some layout flexibility, we have decided to go with an electronic version of our 2011 - 2012 Annual Report.
We hope you'll find the information and links inside the report useful and we look forward to hearing your thoughts on the new format. Drop Mike Spear a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
You really have to focus you thoughts to say someting in 140 characters, but Twitter proves it can be done and done well. Okay, it has also shown up some dismal failures - but every 2 weeks we bring you a selection of some of the hi-lites we have come across. There are millions of posts flying around Twitter at any given time so needless to say this is a very, very, small selection, but one we hope you will find interesting.
The links are safe and the account holders reliable so feel free to click your way through the list:
Genome Canada has released the results of the pre-application stage of their 2012 Large Scale Applied Research Project Competition in Genomics and Personalized Health.
Of 146 pre-applications submitted nationally, 36 were invited to submit a full-application. One pre-application entitled “PACE – ‘Omics: Personalized, Accessible, Cost-Effective applications of ‘Omics technologies", led by Drs. Christopher McCabe and Tania Bubela from the University of Alberta was invited to submit a full-application. Another pre-application entitled “Reducing stroke burden with hospital ready test for rapid TIA triage”, led by Drs. Andrew Penn of the Vancouver Island Health Authority and Christoph Borchers of the University of Victoria and Dr. Shelagh Coutts of the University of Calgary was also invited for full application.
Alberta researchers are also involved in 6 other pre-applications that were invited to submit full-applications.
We have the full list of the successful pre-applications available for you to download.
Twitter was big at the annual BIO event this year. Companies from all over the world tweeted about their meetings, where to find them, interesting highlights, and scheduling details.
Even Alberta’s own Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education Stephen Khan, and Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk tweeted about their time in Boston. In this week’s roundup of Twitter posts we’ve included several of the thousands that came out of BIO2012. Be sure to follow @mikesgene or @GenomeAlberta on Twitter.
@AACR #AACR CEO Dr. Foti discusses her career, cancer research & biotech with @GenomeAlberta at #bio2012 http://ow.ly/bJGcy
@AlbertaEd Alberta high school completion rate up. More students than ever staying and finishing high school. #AbEd #AbLeg http://ow.ly/bQkJ2
@alissasadler Dr. Wood highlights importance of outreach to scientific journals, media, bloggers, prof. assoc. etc, as key in promoting research. #ubckm
@azcommerce RT @IAmBiotech: Want a peak behind the curtain? Here are the final stats from the #BIO2012 Business Forum & Exhibitor Partnering http://ow.ly/bPByy
Originally developed for Hepatitis C research, the KMT Mouse is showing potential in other areas of research. The mouse has a 'humanized liver' but it is showing potential in research to combat malaria, Hepatitis B, and other diseases.
At BIO 2012 in Boston there are a number of companies that would be interested in the potential of the mouse and the services of KMT so the company was part of the Alberta delegation in Boston. Svetlana Sapelnikova is Marketing and Business Development Manager for KMT Hepatech and she had a full schedule of meetings at BIO but I managed to get her to Genome Alberta's BIORadio location. Here is the interview with her from last week.
Agreement will foster R&D collaboration and emergence of more France-Quebec projects
BIO is all about partnering, making deals, and showing of your sucessess in the life sciences. At BIO2012 in Boston I came across a perfect example of what BIO is all about in the France - Quebec partnership announced on June 19th. The new agreement is to develop a joint program to enhance biomedical research in Quebec, Alsace and Rhone-Alpes, and to co-fund research projects between the three regions. Lyonbiopole is focused on the fight against human and animal infectious diseases and cancers, Alsace BioValley is dedicated to finding ways to accelerate therapeutic innovation and create jobs and the Quebec based part of the partnership is the Québec Consortium for Drug Discovery(CQDM) which brings together companies and organizations involved in biopharmaceutical research.
The call for projects will go out in September of this yea and is worth up to $1.4 M for a 3 year period.
Isabelle Scarabin is the Economic and International Affairs Director for Lyonbiopole and she joined me at Genome Alberta's booth overlooking the trade show floor for a quick interview about the partnership.
Rui Song is a grade 11 student at Walter Murray Collegiate in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She competed as a finalist last week at the 2012 International BioGENEius Challenge in Boston, held in conjunction with the BIO International Convention. The competition brings together young researchers from around the world to present their project findings before a panel of experienced judges. Rui's project was to improve the commercial potential of a more nutritious lentil variety. The award-winning project included analyzing the genetics of a lentil variety as compared to a similar pea variety.
I interviewed Rui a couple of years ago at BIO in Chicago and she certainly hasn't slowed down. In 2011 she was named to Maclean's Magazine, Leaders of Tomorrow: The Ones to Watch as well as a recipient of the Top 20 Under 20 Award, she received a second place grand award in the plant sciences category at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in both 2011 and 2012. In 2010, she was national champion of the Sanofi-aventis BioTalent Challenge, and a finalist at the Sanofi-aventis International BioGENEius Competition. In 2010 and 2012, she took first place in the Saskatoon Sanofi-aventis Regional BioTalent Challenge in the Open Division and the Genome Prairie Award at Sanofi-aventis Regional BioTalent Challenge.
Rui joined me at the BIORadio booth at BIO2012 where there was lots of activity going on at the time of the interview so we had to contend with a lot of background noise. It is a noisy interview but crank up the volume, listen closely and hear what she has to say.
BIO 2012 in Boston is wrapping up and for Genome Alberta, and for me, it has been a great success.
I was able to record interviews with a diverse range of BIO attendees. Margaret Foti the BIO Humanitarian of the Year had a long day of interviews but managed to still keep it fresh like it was her first of the day. Reg Joseph of Metabolomic Technologies never batted an eye when my recording stopped and I had to start again. Breanne Everett came back a second time to do an audio 'do over' and a video interview. After a lot of re-arranging schedules I got video and audio interviews with Stephen Khan, Alberta's new Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education and it went well enough he helped lineup Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta's new Deputy Premier. The various interviews during the week covered everything from genetically modified mice, to the economy, to cancer diagnostics and the guests came from Canada, France, and all over the U.S.
None of it would have happened this week without a lot of help from an equally broad range of people behind the scenes:
Gayle Kansagor who was instrumental in getting me a media pass and keeping me in the loop in between BIO events
Abigail Hirsch along with other BIO folks helped find guests and got me a fantastic location to get the job done
Paulina Ibarra, the video scheduling genius who politely kept everyone on time
Tracy Cooley who managed to find me the space, the people, the media pass and anything else needed
Amanda Stadel from BioAlberta who gets a merit badge for finding guests
Marie Iwanow, Stephen Khan's Press Secretary who made the interview happen but never got to come to Boston
Jeff Kasbrick who also gets a merit badge for delivering Thomas Lukaszek
Darren at Netromedia without whom the livestream would never have happened
Quinn at Marqui who helped get the BioRadio player up and running
Kim back at the office who had to keep checking the site and listening to good, bad, and indifferent audio
Jennifer Spector and Tracey Wimmet who both helped deliver guests
BIO's video crew lead by Hugo Simoes and Julie Pippert who must have been wilting under the video interview schedule and the subsequent editing
Last year was the first shot at BioRadio and it went well. This year had more lead time and was a definite hit in many ways and generated some excellent traffic and interest here at the show and across social media. We've already starting planning for next year in Chicago so we can make it bigger and better.
Thanks to everyone involved.
This week ( June 20th, 2012) the Biotechnology Industry Organization released the results of a survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research Associates.
The survey was to offer some insight into what the American public thinks about biotech as an industry, and what the industry itself sees as the challenges now and in the future.
In general the survey show support for the biotechnology industry and that it needs government support to carry on the work - though not support in the form of direct dollars or investment. I think in Canada we would find very similar reactions (based in my anecdotal experience, not survey based). Those surveyed also indicated that partisan gridlock in Washington was also a problem. Given some of the public reaction to the pace of parliamentary business in Ottawa, Canadians fell much the same.
There is something in these results that is a take-away for political leaders and biotech leaders North and South of the 49th - I'll leave it to you to think about it.
An extensive summary of the findings is available on the BIO website but to help you through some of the key points here is my interview with one of the survey leaders, Alex Bratty of Public Opinion Strategies.
Got an itch? The age old home remedy is to do more than just scratch it, but to use oatmeal as a paste, lotion or bath. It certainly isn't a new remedy, but an Edmonton company is applying some modern know-how to this traditional product.
When I was first looking at some of the Alberta companies at BIO2012 I must admit to being a little surprised to see CEAPRO on the list. When you look around the BIO trade floor and look at the list of presentations there is lots of high tech talk and equipment. You hear about new sequencing technology, the latest drug trials, and listen in on debates about how to manage the GMO debate. So what is a company that specializes in natural products and nutraceuticals doing in that space?
I tracked down Branko Jankovic, the CFO of CEAPRO to find out what brings him to Boston as part of the Alberta delegation. It seems that if you want to make the most of even traditional cures and remedies you have to use the latest technology to get the purest formulations and the best manufacturing processes you can manage to stay competitive.
Here is my interview with Branko Jankovic.
She started out as an editorial assistant for the journal Cancer Research. Now Dr. Margaret Foti is the 2012 Biotechnology Industry Organization's Humanitarian of the Year and is CEO of the American Association for Cancer Research, right back where she started her path to becoming a researcher. The award recognizes her tireless efforts to improve cancer research, her work as a cancer advocate and her ground-breaking work in the area of team science. Dr. Foti is also known for leading AACR’s scientific partnership with Stand Up To Cancer, a charitable initiative that supports leading research aimed at accelerating new cancer treatments for patients.
And she did indeed appear to be tireless. I met her much earlier in the day when she first arrived in the building, full of energy and enthusiasm. The Convention Center in Boston is huge and she would be making the rounds, doing interviews, and speaking over the lunch hour. At 2:30 Dr. Foti was doing a video interview ( shown at left), before coming over to talk with me. The day had not yet drained out any of the energy or enthusiasm that had been there bright and early in the day, and she was all set for yet another round of questions. Click here for the audio.
Orpyx Medical Technologies of Calgary was founded by a group of physicians who wanted to help diabetics avoid health complications caused by peripheral neuropathy. No I hadn't heard of it either, but many diabetics are keenly aware of the conditions that could result in serious problems with their feet, and in some cases, amputation.
The solution Orpyx has come up with is a feedback sensor embedded in the patient's insole. Dr. Breanne Everettis President and CEO of Orpyx and she showed me a sample of the prototype - a very simple insole with a tiny little circuit board attached to it.
Dr. Everett came up to our Genome Alberta location at BIO2012 and we talked about the health problems and the solution she and her team are working on. Click for the audio interview and scroll down to see an introductory video from Orpyx.
You can also follow them on Twitter as @orpyxinc
BioAlberta recently took a snapshot of Alberta's of the life sciences industry in the province. After a sluggish few years that mirrored the global economy the survey indicated that Alberta companies are generally a lot more optimistic about the future.
Of the health biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies that responded 14.8%have their lead product on the market, 25.9% are currently in Phase 1 through 3 of clinical trials and 33.3% have their lead product in the R & D phase. Half of the agricultural biotechnology, natural health, or nutraceutical companies have a product already on the market. Not bad numbers, though finding new sources of capital is still a problem for many Alberta companies.
There are about a dozen Alberta companies attending BIO Boston along with BioAlberta, some government officials, and of course the Deputy Premier and the new Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education.
The Alberta delegation has been busy this week but the folks at BioAlberta have been a big help in getting guest to my location overlooking the trade show floor and I also managed to talk to them about the state of Alberta's biotechnology and life sciences industry.
You can listen to yesterday's conversation with Ryan Radke, President of BioAlberta, and today's chat with Rick Smith, chair of the BioAlberta Board of Directors.
Many of the tests available to diagnose colorectal cancer don't catch the disease soon enough and the survival rate drops rapidly if a developing cancer is not treated.
An Alberta company believe it has found a new and relatively simple test which will catch cancer at the polyp stage so that treatment can start early. The spot urine diagnostic test has undergone some of its first human trials and Metabolomic Technologiesof Edmonton is confident it will proceed quickly through the rest of the regulatory approval process.
Reg Joseph is the CEO of the company and I caught up to him at BIO 2012 in Boston yesterday to talk about the science behind the test and how his company emerged from work at the University of Alberta. Here is my conversation with him.
He is definitely the new kid on the block. Stephen Khan has a background in business and is serving his first term as an MLA, and just to make sure he doesn't get to feel too comfortable, too soon, Alberta Premier Alison Redford gave him the job of Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education. The portfolio used to be Alberta Advanced Education and Technology and with the new name comes a new focus. Some people in the research community worry that the focus on Enterprise may not be good news for basic research but the Minister doesn't see it that way.
I caught up with Minister Khan after the opening of the Canadian Pavilion at BIO2012 and asked him a few questions about his new job and the new look for the department.
You can listen to the full audio interview now and later today at 2:00p EDT I'll be interviewing him live on the BIO Webcasting Channel.
On Wednesday, June 20th, there will be a panel presentation at BIO Boston about using plant based material for plastics. It starts at 8:30a in Room 252B as part of the Biofuels and Biobased Chemicals Track. You can find full details on the panel at http://mybio.zerista.com/event/member/48584
Susan Finston is the panel moderator and I talked to her today about the PET Bottle that will be the jumping off point for the discussion about looking for alternative to petroleum based plastics.
Just click to listen to my interview with her ( and apologies for the levels as I get it sorted out in this area which goes from busy and noisy to very quiet).
Well it is a long story fraught with Jeep problems back at home but after starting my day at 2:45a MDT I arrived in Boston at 4:30p EDT to do another round of podcasts from the 2012 Biotechnology Industry Organization's Annual convention and trade show.
This is Genome Alberta's 7th BIO and my 5th and and as always, an interesting experience. If you've seen one trade show you've probably seen them all but the sheer size of this one, the number of technical presentations, the formal business partnering opportunities, and the general quality of the event makes it a stand out. The decision for a business to attend a trade show can be a tough one and needs to be well planned out with the possibility that the outcome is still a roll of the dice. You need to go in with a specific message, concrete calls to action, a strategy to track follow-up, and a way to collect contact information to use later. The roll of the dice comes with the right people, finding your booth at the right time, and being in the right frame of mind to talk business.
As a not-for-profit organization, Genome Alberta has to gauge these opportunities carefully and last year we did not have a booth presence and tried something different we called BIORadio and that we are set to do again this year. What a better way to talk with companies involved in the same area as us, showcase Canadians down here in Boston, and introduce ourselves to a broader audience than to spend 3 days interviewing them all. We'll be recording audio interviews throughout the show, editing the pieces and posting them here on our blog pages. We'll also stream some of the interviews live at http://genomealberta.ca/bioradio And finally we will be spending some time on BIO's own video channel doing interviews with a few people including Alberta's new Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education, Stephen Khan.
We already have a few interesting interviews lined up:
I'll be tracking down other people of interest at BIO and encourage you to stop by http://genomealberta.ca/bioradio for some of the live interviews between 1:00p and 3:00p EDT and here on our blog pages for the edited and archived versions.
Meanwhile here is a quick idea of just how big BIO is this year:
Total attendees: more than15,000
International attendees: 5,000
States represented: 48
Countries represented: 65
Companies participating in the business forum: 2,800
According to a recent Pew survey most Americans don’t use Twitter. But about half who do use it every day and the percentages for Canada tend to remain about the same. That is still a lot of eyes on the page and with 140 million users around the world Twitter's influence continues to grow.
We tweet under the usernames of @GenomeAlberta and @mikesgene and using some automated features linked to our GenOmicsNews.ca site and to our blog pages we are able to post information about our work, our partner's work, news from related omics research, and reach out to science media and science communicators around North America. The result is that we hit a high number of users who tend to have a direct interest in the life sciences and in communicating the messages of the life sciences.
Here is a very small snapshot of what some of our online community has had to say over the last 2 weeks:
In January of this year Genome Canada, with funding from Industry Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium announced funding for large-scale research projects which focus on the application of genomics in the area of Personalized Health. The National competition funding was to support projects that will demonstrate how genomics-based research can contribute to a more evidence-based approach to health and improving the cost effectiveness of the health care system. For more detailed information on the competition you can visit our Genomics and Personalized Health or GAPH pages).
This competition is worth $65 million with the required co-funding and matching dollars pushing it to a $132 million dollar fund for research in Canada.
Through the 6 regional Genome Centres in Canada a call for proposals went out, the applications screened regionally, and now 15 Alberta led applications have gone forward to Genome Canada to be reviewed by an independent panel to be sent through to the next step in the application process.
In addition to the 15 Alberta-led applications, another 6 Alberta were co-leads on applications from other regions of the country. With funding from Alberta Advanced Education and Technology Genome Alberta was able to work with the initial Alberta based researchers interested in applying and the result was some high quality submission set to go forward to the next stage. Not every application can be successful in a science funding competition such as this but we are confident that the Alberta genomics research community is well represented.
Continue reading to see the Alberta led applications or download the chart.
Also available for download is the list of Alberta co-led applicationsand the full national list of applications from across Canada.
Today the Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI) and a cross Canada collection of partners announced an 8.2 million dollar research initiative to tackle glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer. The partners include Genome Canada, Genome BC, the BC Cancer Foundation, the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Alberta Innovates Health Solutions, and the Terry Fox Foundation.
This is a unique collaboration involving many partners willing to contribute what they can to create a substantial 5 year research effort. We here at Genome Alberta have the special role of managing the funds, financial reporting and tracking project milestones.
The announcement of the research initiative took place today ( June 5th ) and here are some of the details, a couple of pictures from the event and some background video. Pictures by me, media release and video courtesy of the Terry Fox Research Institute.
Canadian "dream team" to tackle deadly brain cancer with $8.2 million Terry Fox Research Institute and partners in Alberta and across Canada
They are a “dream team” comprised of some of the country’s top minds in cancer research. They are harnessing their talent and technologies to find new treatments for the most common and deadly form of brain cancer among adults with an $8.2 million investment from The Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI), The Terry Fox Foundation (TFF), Alberta Innovates–Health Solutions, the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Genome Canada, Genome BC and the BC Cancer Foundation.
When newly elected Premier Alison Redford was ready to name her cabinet much of the announcement was handled in the usual way with a media release, swearing in, and a media photo opportunity. There was one interesting twist to the process this time though. Premier Redford posted the cabinet appointments one-by-one, 140 characters at a time on Twitter before the usual formalities. While there was no huge advantage to finding out a cabinet name first, it was significant that the Premier's office acknowledged that Twitter is a legitimate way to communicate with Albertans and with Alberta media. Columnists such as the Calgary Herald's Don Braid are already privy to such information but also noted the tweets going out and made sure his own readers were aware. It meant that before it had hit the regular news and before the media release was posted on the government's web site, I was able to let everyone in our office know the cabinet appointments that affect our overall operations.
If you haven't tried out Twitter here is our bi-weekly round-up of some of the postings we think you will find informative, interesting or entertaining. Be sure to follow @GenomeAlberta and @mikesgene to keep up with life science news before it comes into your inbox as part of a daily or weekly digest.
There is always a real person behind the tweets we share with you on Twitter Snips and often they represent companies, government departments, universities or non-profits. Here's who is responsible for this weeks information:
A day on the Internet sees enough information to fill 168 millions DVDs being sent around the world. We send 294 billion e-mails and you're reading one of the 2 million blog posts written every day. @GenomeAlberta and @mikesgene are just two of the 40 million people who view Twitter every day so this collection of Twitter posts is a very, very, very small bit of theinformation available to us each and every day.
However we choose these posts to share with based on the people and organization we have come to know on Twitter and who we feel can inform you and occassionally even entertain you.
The links are safe for you to view so be sure to check out a few of them - or take your chances on randomly choosing from the 200 million tweets posted in a day.
On May 3rd, Stephen Larter presented to the Bacon and Eggheads breakfast in Ottawa. The series brings together Parliamentarians with experts from across science and engineering to show off Canadian research. The prestigious forum is a unique opportunity for scientists to communicate important findings to an influential audience.
The series is organized by the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering which is an umbrella group of 25 + science and engineering organizations.
Stephen Larter is one of the Co-investigators in our Hydrocarbon Metagenomics Project.
Stephen spoke about " Alternate futures for the oil sands industry: from the age of steam to the age of biology" and here is an abstract from his presentation.
"Underground steam injection has made in situ recovery of oil sands bitumen possible, but it comes at a high cost. The boiling of water consumes energy and can create significant carbon emissions of its own. In the quest for a better extraction technology, researchers are now drawing inspiration from the abundant microorganisms that produced the bitumen in the first place. Our speaker will introduce Canada’s role in the biotechnological revolution driving this quest, and the likelihood of implications far beyond the oil sector. Stephen Larter will also discuss more generally current Canadian research in technologies to manage better the carbon footprint of the industry.
Dr. Larter is the Canada Research Chair of Petroleum Geology at the University of Calgary and the Scientific Director of Carbon Management Canada Inc.—a federal Network of Centres of Excellence. He has worked extensively on technologies for reduced emission recovery from oil and gas fields and novel schemes for capturing and sequestering carbon. Dr. Larter has co-founded several energy technology companies and has won several academic, commercial and civil awards including the Friendship Medal of the People’s Republic of China. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Foreign Member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (Det Norske Videnskaps-Akademi)."
I was speaking at a Government Communications Conference in Arlington, Virginia today and as is often the case, I find the U.S. government take on communications to be more sophisticated than we generally see up here.
A bit of a surprise for Canadians who often see the elephant to the South trying for world domination at any cost. Okay, maybe that is the goal, but they sure won't achieve it with such an enlightened communications community. Whatever they may think of his policies or politics, Obama's call for a more transparent and open government seems to have been embraced at the individual, departmental and agency level. In fact at times my perception is that there was a sigh of relief from many government employees who believe strongly in what they do in their jobs and were just waiting for someone to tell them it was okay to talk about it.
Captain Joseph Smart (@capster9) from the U.S.Navy Medical Department pointed out that U.S. Navy Medicine is a $6 billion dollar healthcare network covering 63,000 people around the world. They use many aspects of social media for internal and external communication and re-purpose material across print, e-mail, social media and other channels to get the most bang out of every communication buck. He showed that 50 tweets via @NavyMedicine reached 63,000 people, and as many people in the room picked up on, also noted that content is king in making that happen. I've been on the speaking roster with Captain Smart before (sorry, may never be able to call someone Cappy!) and the openness that the U.S. Navy approaches their communications with never ceases to amaze me. As he also pointed out, they can't control the sea of public opinion but they can at least navigate it.
Donna Berry from the National Institutes of Health walked everyone through how the NIH is using Yammer http://yammer.com as an internal communications tool. It started as a skunkworks effort led by Donna and Sandra Scarbrough. Though Donna never came right out and said it, there seemed to be an element of do it and ask for forgiveness later if it didn't work. But it has worked and though it is still is considered a pilot project, the Facebook-like interface of Yammer has more than 700 NIH users, 4,000+ messages and 695 search queries.
The 2 day Advanced Learning Institute event also had speakers from the Centers for Disease Control, the FBI (sorry I wasn't able to catch that presentation!), the Smithsonian, the National Cancer Institute and a few more U.S. agencies and departments.
Canadian government organizations have come a long way in the last few years in their use of online tools and some of the efforts at a municipal level can hold their own on the North American stage. In general though we're still in a world where controlling the message is the primary goal. The wheels are turning over slowly but we are moving in the right direction. We'll see if we can catch up to the social media behemoth to the South.
Half a billion registered users who post in the range of 175 million tweets in a single day. It is now safe to say that Twitter has become more than an oddity when it comes to communicating online. It is well established and is probably here for some time to come. It is used in business, public relations, entertainment, education and just about any other sector or interest you can think of including science.
For an introduction to how you can use it in science you should check out this blog postfrom the ‘Happy Science’ blog. It will give you some good tips and ideas, and if you want to know what makes for a good tweet, the Harvard Business Review has some ideas for you.
Every 2 weeks we share some of the Tweets that have come to the attention of @mikesgene or @GenomeAlberta .
Check the tweetsm check the links, check the people and organizations behind the posts. Get to know Twitter and how our life science community can start to put it to use.
The latest and we hope at least some of the more interesting posts we found on Twitter over the last 2 weeks. The original post got lost in the posting line-up, so here it is a week later than planned:
The Internet is a busy, busy place. How busy? Well this graphic might give you an idea of how busy it gets. Twitter is just one part of life on the Internet and our bi-weekly look at what we think you might find interesting is an even smaller slice of the 'Net. but you have to start somewhere and if you are new to Twitter you'll find these posts and the people who compose these 140 character bits of information to be a useful introduction to what's out there.
If you want to learn more please follow @GenomeAlberta or @mikesgene.
@BoraZ Bora Zivkovic of Chapel Hill, North Caroline is involved in science communication including blogging, publishing, and teaching. He is the Blogs Editor at Scientific American, Visiting Scholar at NYU school of journalism, Organizer of the annual Science Online Conference. http://coturnix.org
@CellFyre Doesn’t share much information but says “Everybody is handed a coupon for scientific knowledge at birth. Many have forgotten to redeem theirs. To create awareness I advocate #DIYBio, #STEM, and #PLoS”
@JJMangler Jennifer Mangler is a 7th grade social studies teacher, history/civics/geography geek, tech nerd, & National Board Certified teacher in Fairfield, IA http://is.gd/RUZOVe
@MedcanClinic the Medcan Clinic of Toronto is a preventive healthcare clinic providing online health, fitness and wellness information. They encourage you to Tweet your questions. http://www.medcan.com
@mza Matt Wood of Cambridge in the UK is involved in computing and HPC for Amazon Web Services and says he is “organising the world’s data, 140 characters at a time.” http://greenisgood.co.uk
University of Alberta Professor and Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy Tim Caulfield, along with Shawn HE Harmon and Yann Joly have just had a paper published in Genome Medicine at http://genomemedicine.com/content/4/2/17/abstract .
The article is worth sharing with Chief Science Officers, legal counsel or Program Directors in many funding organizations, government funding bodies or universities. In particular the final section on policy conflict is worth a look.
Thanks to Karin Morin at Genome Canada for passing along the information.
The provisional .pdf is available at http://genomemedicine.com/content/pdf/gm316.pdf .
There are lots of ways to use Twitter. You can post information about upcoming events or conferences, share links to interesting and informative papers or articles, add a comment about the latest news in science or politics, or use it to find people or organizations that share your interests.
How scientists use Twitter vary but for some specific insights check Using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities. Thanks to @karidoerksen from Genome Prairie for pointing the article out to me.
Here at Genome Alberta we use it in all these ways and sometimes as a way to simply find interesting stuff to talk about.
Every 2 weeks we share some of our finds here on our blog pages and encourage you to check out the links and the people behind these posts. Of course we also encourage you to join the thousands who follow us on Twitter at either @GenomeAlberta or @mikesgene .
I was in the the MaRS Centre in Toronto and it reminded me of an e-mail from Grand Challenges Canada that is still sitting in my Inbox. The e-mail has a list of funding opportunities that have deadines coming up in the next month or so that you might want to make note of. There are 3 funding opportunities that are currently open and accepting applications:
Canada’s Rising Stars in Global Health - Deadline: March 23, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. ET
This competition is looking for innovative ideas to address complex real-world challenges involving a scientific/technological solution (new or existing) alone or in combination with social and/or business innovations.
Rising Stars in Global Health - Deadline: March 23, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. ET
Similar to the Canada Rising Stars but this program is specifically seeking ideas from innovators in low- and lower-middle income countries.
Saving Lives at Birth - Deadline: April 2, 2012, at 2:00 p.m. ET
The partners in this Grand Challenge include U.S. Agency for International Development, the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development. Together with Grand challenge Canada they are looking for applications for innovative approaches to address roadblocks to healthy pregnancies and births.
Sorry this edition of Twitter highlights is late in getting out. The old, so much to do, so little time.
I'll keep the intro short and sweet, follow @GenomeAlberta and @mikesgene on Twitter and enjoy this sampe of some of the more interesting and informative posts to roll through our Twitter stream.
@andrewhessel #futuremed 2012 is underway! Congrats to @daniel_kraft and the entire #singularity team!
As part of our co-sponsorship of the National Geographic Live presentation of Deep Ancestry with National Geographic's Explorer-in-Residence Spencer Wells, we have some free tickets available.
First place to check is the Facebook contest page for the Epcor Centre. Post a comment to the page answering, “Where is your family from?” and you’ll be entered to win a family four-pack. Deadline is 11:59pm, Wednesday, February 1st.
On Monday, February 6th, sometime around 4:40p, CBC Radio's Homestretch Program will have tickets to giveaway. They'll also be interviewing Spencer Wells so be sure to tune in this coming Monday.
Swerve Magazine has tickets and you'll have to visit their website now to get in on those ones.
Shaw TV will have tickets.
If you are in the genetics department at the U of C, they have tickets and as soon as I can get more details I"ll let you know.
The Epcor Centre has an email contest that closes later this week. To enter send an e-mail to email@example.com with "DNA" in the subject line, and include your name, address and postal code and you're automatically eligible to win.
The presentation is on February 7th at 7:00p in the Epcor Centre's Jack Singer Concert Hall. We're pretty pleased to be part of this event as Toronto is the only other Canadian city hosting one of the presentations so it was a good catch for the Epcor Centre and for Genome Alberta. Check the Epcor website for more details.
Twitter is going to hit user number 500 million this month. That is an impressive feat and means it is becomng impossible to dismiss Twitter as a useful communication tool with an equally useful role in science communication. It also means it is no longer an easy job to find the best accounts to follow and sort out the good from the bad and the useful from the useless.
Here is a VERY small sample of people and posts from the last 2 weeks meant to give you a taste of what is out there and how it is used.
If you're not already a Twitter user, sign up fast and try to be that 500 millionth account. And of course be sure to follow @mikesgene or @GenomeAlberta .
On February 17th Genome Alberta and the Public Policy Forum are co-hosting a workshop on how genomics tools and technology can be applied to the development of hydrocarbon resources in Canada and around the world. Genomics or genetics are not the first thing that come to mind when you think of Alberta's oil and gas industry but there is a strong and useful relationship. Until recently, the limited ability to grow bacteria and other life forms found in hydrocarbon environments in the laboratory made it difficult to understand the genetic make-up of these organisms. Our new and emerging understanding of microbial action in hydrocarbons can now help in many ways:
Mitigate tailing ponds
Decrease water use in the extraction process
Reduce souring in oil reserves
Reduce corrosion in pipelines and oilfield equipment
Provide a technology platform to manage environmental impact
The list of how genomics is used now, and how it can be used in future oil and gas development, will be the focus of a prestigious group of workshop panelists and speakers:
Terry Hazen - A recognized authority on bioremediation of the Gulf after the BP oil spill and a professor at the University of Tennessee
Mehrdad Hajibabaei - Assistant Professor Biodiversity Institute of Ontario Department of Integrative Biology
Paul Willems - BP, Technology Vice President, Energy Biosciences
Genome Alberta is a non-for-profit funder of genomics research and is holding the workshop to:
Discuss the role genomics can play in developing a more productive and responsible Alberta energy sector
Assess the research and infrastructure capacity in environmental and energy genomics in Alberta, across Canada, and internationally
Explore funding models to advance this area of research.
While this workshop is by invitation only, if you think you could contribute to the discussion or that you or that your organization would like to take part, please contact Heather Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 403-503-5220 ext. 24 to discuss an invitation.
Ottawa, Ontario (January 23, 2012) – The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) have announced the six recipients of the 2011 CIHR-CMAJ: Top Achievements in Health Research Awards. Each researcher who is honoured improved our understanding of health and human diseases, helped tackle health challenges, and improved the health care system.
For the third year, a peer-review panel of Canadian and international experts selected exceptional individuals based on the considerable health impact of their work to benefit Canadians and others worldwide. Among the six outstanding achievements selected, two received special mentions for their highest-ranking successes.
Dr. Daniel Drucker for his innovative work in improving the lives of patients with type 2 diabetes (Toronto, Ontario) – Special mention
Dr. Gideon Koren and colleagues for revolutionizing the area of medication safety in pregnancy (Toronto, Ontario) – Special mention
Dr. Marvin Fritzler for identifying novel autoantigens that resulted in new diagnostic testing and biomarkers for autoimmune diseases (Calgary, Alberta)
Virtually all of Dr. Fritzler's discoveries of novel autoantigens have been translated into new diagnostic assays or biomarkers that are in wide use in clinical diagnostic and research laboratories around the world. Dr. Marvin Fritzler's work out of Calgary is particularly important for patients with autoimmune disorders.
Dr. Terry Klassen and colleagues for improving health outcomes of acutely ill and injured children visiting pediatric emergency departments (across Canada)
Drs. Anthony Tang and George Wells for helping reduce cardiac mortality rates with resynchronization therapy and implantable defibrillators in heart failure (Ottawa, Ontario)
Dr. Michael Hill and colleagues for the Calgary Stroke Program (Calgary, Alberta) that has changed the face of stroke care by thoroughly integrating research and clinical care
Dr. Hill's team has changed the face of stroke care. The Calgary Stroke Program, through its multidisciplinary clinical research group, has guided practice changes in Canada and beyond. A defining feature of the program is that research and clinical care are thoroughly integrated.
Dr. Alain Beaudet, President of CIHR, congratulated the researchers. "Today we celebrate the tireless work of outstanding individuals who dedicate their careers to finding innovative solutions to pressing health care problems. Along with their significant advancement of knowledge, they ensured the results had a direct impact to benefit patients. These researchers have humbly improved the lives of millions of people worldwide."
"The calibre of recipients is remarkable and reflects the high quality of research in Canada," said Dr. John Fletcher, new Editor-in-Chief of CMAJ. "Their work, from improving management of type 2 diabetes to revolutionizing medication safety for pregnant women to helping better diagnose and understand autoimmune disorders and more, will have a lasting impact in the practice of medicine and for many people around the world."
"The recipients of this award have demonstrated the key purpose of health research – translating research knowledge into practical health outcomes," said Dr. Ian Graham, Vice President, Knowledge Translation and Public Outreach at CIHR. "The achievements recognized today are a testament to how health research and better healthcare delivery go hand in hand."
Essays from the two highest-ranking achievements are available on the CMAJ website under "Special Reports".
Essays by the winners of the two highest-ranking achievements are available:
I shouldn't be surprised given the number of ads, print magazines, and online sites devoted to it, but until I heard some comments by Spencer Wells I never realised genealogy is the second most popular hobby behind gardening. Spencer Wells is a population geneticist, the National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and heads up the Genographic Project. He'll will be speaking in Calgary on February 7th about the project and about some of the things he has learned travelling around the world to collect DNA samples and research human migration patterns. The project is using the latest technology in DNA analysis to create a genetically-based map of human migration. The team has collected hundred of thousands of DNA samples to help understand how we started from a small population in Africa, and spread around the globe over the last 60,000 years.
There are some fundamental questions that we don't have complete answers for yet.
When did modern humans first colonize the Arctic?
How many waves of migration were there into the Americas?
Who are the oldest populations in Africa and therefore the world?
Can ancient remains from animals help to trace the spread of domestication?
The project draws on experts in human population genetics and related disciplines, located at 11 research laboratories and universities. Together they lead regional efforts to obtain and analyze DNA samples from indigenous populations and there is another scientist focusing on DNA collected from ancient samples.
The project also invites the general public to join in, submit a sample for the broader research project, and get information about their own ancestry. Sounds like an interesting project so what is a journalist turned Genome Alberta Communications Director supposed to do other than join the project !
Request for Applications (RFA) Genomics and Personalized Health A Genome Canada – CIHR Partnership
Genome Canada, in partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), is seeking proposals for large-scale research projects which focus on the application of genomics in the area of Personalized Health. Through this partnership Genome Canada will implement an important element of its Strategic Plan (2012-2017) and CIHR will launch its Personalized Medicine Signature Initiative. This strategic partnership will build on the complementary mandates of Genome Canada and CIHR and provide an opportunity to maximize the effectiveness of the research communities, infrastructure and resources supported by both organizations.
In the context of this competition Personalized Health can be seen as a more evidence based approach to decision making both with regards to health maintenance and disease interventions. There is a spectrum of activities that span what is referred to as the molecular medicine continuum from health maintenance and disease prevention, through early detection, to treatment of disease and disease prognosis. This approach relies upon an increasing knowledge of the underlying risk factors, causes, and mechanisms of disease pathogenesis as well as an understanding of the influence of environment, behaviour and lifestyle on the onset and outcomes of the disease state.
Under this Request for Applications (RFA), genomic and GE3LS activities can be targeted to any part of the continuum but must demonstrate their potential to contribute to a more evidence-based approach to health and their potential to improve not only the cost-effectiveness of the health-care system, but also to ensure that discoveries are translated into patient and population benefits. In order to maximize the effectiveness of this RFA in advancing genomics research and its application in Canada, sharing of resources and expertise through inter-regional or international collaboration is encouraged at all levels.
GenOmics has a new home. It has moved all of its belongings, cool features, and information to a new address at http://genomicsnews.ca . Make a mental note that it is a dot ca domain, because we don't want you to head down the dot com street and end up in the wrong place. GenOmics has seen some remodeling, a little touchup paint, and a complete renovation over the years, but this is the first time it has packed up and moved.
It started life in 2008 as a Facebook application that enabled Facebook users to send virtual genes to their friends.
There was the gene for blues eyes, one for red hair, the Night Owl gene for those who stayed out late, and a gene for big dogs. Each gene had an icon designed by an artist just for the application (no clip art ! ), a description of what the gene and genes do or don't do, an 'About Genome Alberta' section, and a whatever news we could squeeze into a paragraph. We gave away almost 15,00 genes in that first year - not bad for our first venture into social media.
Our developer then, and now, was Jeff Reifman of newscloud.com
Yesterday at the Science Online 2012 Conference in Raleigh I attended an afternoon session on "Why Scientists Hate and Fear the Media; or, Science Training for Journalists". Quite a mouthful which at times proved to be hard to swallow because what was destined to be a lively session anyway, eventually came off the rails. The upside of the 'unconference' format is that sessions are more relevant to more attendees, but the downside is that sessions can be "we the unknowing led but the inexperienced."
What I was able to come away with though, was that many scientists worry about damage to their reputation after missteps, misquotes or misunderstanding. A bad round with the NY Times, CNN, or Wired.com can derail your career.
No doubt that could happen. Emphasis on the could and I hope some of yesterday's attendees joined today's session on risk, wonderfully led by David Ropeik, to help ease their mistrust.
What yesterday's session skipped by was a realistic scan across the average science - media - scientist - journalist relationship.
For a start the average researcher in the average university is not likely to get a call from the NY Times, Guardian, or CNN or in Canada, a print outlet such as the Globe and Mail. The call is more likely to come from a local newspaper, or an electronic broadcaster, and this changes the scenario significantly.
The big national outlets or specialty publications are more likely to have a dedicated beat reporter who has time to read the original science paper or dig deeper into the research. Specialty publications also have deadlines that are farther out. Despite a dismissive comment during the session about reporters who don't read the research paper, there is no escaping the fact a local reporter has neither the time or the background to read a scientific paper. Nor is it in any way similar to the tweeted comment about a "reporter who doesn't read a science paper is like a restaurant reviewer who doesn't visit the restaurant".
I'm in Raleigh, North Carolina for the Science Online 2012 Conference. It is the 6th Conference, but my first chance at hearing what some of the top science writers, bloggers, journalists, and science PR folks are doing to make science communication better. The 450 attendees come from all over the U.S., Canada, the UK and I noticed a post appeared from someone arriving from Germany so we're all guaranteed a lot of practical ideas coming out of some diverse background.
Ulitmately the conference, the presentations, and the people, are all about some basic communications in a modern context.
In a crowd fulll of the most digitally saavy people I'm likely to come across for awhile, I was trying to figure out how to bring a unique twist to things.
Which is where the Impossible Project comes in. Ani instant imaging process, wireless, no printer required and no issues around bandwidth ( which is becoming a problem as the hotel fills up with tjhose armed with one or more WiFi device). A basic imaging tool from a communication age of a few decades ago.
I dug out my old Polaroid camera and thanks to the Impossible Project begun in 2008 I was also able to find instant film at the Camera Store in Calgary. Jim Slobodian is Assistant Floor Manager at the store and not only was he helpful, but he really has spent some time learning about an old technology that is seeing some life breathed back into it.
This week I'll be attending the Science Online Conferenceat North Carolina State University. I first heard about the conference several years ago on, where else, Twitter.
It is the 6th gathering of scientists, students, educators, PR folks, journalists, librarians, bloggers, and programmers interested in how the Internet is changing the way we talk about science and how we as communicators can make the most of new media.
Whether it is through website, Twitter, Facebook, ResearchGate, or specialized tools like our own GenOmics application you can be sure it will be discussed thoroughly, both online and offline.
Many of the people in this edition of Twitter Snips are part of the conference and many more than the 450 people attending in person will be following online.
We'll be tweeting, posting some blog entries and uploading some pictures over the next week so be sure to check back here often or follow @mikesgene or @GenomeAlberta.
In the meantime here is a very small sampling of what you can find on Twitter from some of those part of the Science Online 2012 community.
@BoraZ Open science, publications & digital evolution: Like it or not science and research are changing http://t.co/2tcAdiAT @AggieResearch #scio12
There were roughly16,000 New Year tweets per second whizzing around the InterWebs a few days ago and it eventually brought Twitter to grinding halt in some areas.
Those numbers should give a hint to how popular Twitter has become. While I'm sure the majority of those New Year's Tweets we simply New Year's best wishes or where to find the best place to ring in the New Year, there is still a lot of good, solid content out there.
Like so many other publications, blogs, and websites, Twitter was awash with year end lists so we decided why fight it and so our bi-weekly Twitter Snips is a list of the more interesting lists found around Twitter.
The links are checked and safe to visit and you can ( and should !) follow us on Twitter as either @mikesgene or @GenomeAlberta .
@23andMe Blog Post- Our Top 10 for 2011: We thought 2010 would be hard to top but we’re happy to say that 2011 has been exciting. http://bit.ly/t7xrFI
Genome Canada the umbrella organization for Canada's regional Genome Centres has posted a new Strategic Plan on their website. Genome Canada is a not-for-profit organization established in February 2000 and is funded in large part by Industry Canada. Together with the regional centres such as Genome Alberta, many important large scale genomics research projects and technology platforms have been made possible in Canada.
With a solid track record over the last 10 years, the new Strategic Plan looks ahead for the next 10 years.
Sadly genetics, bioethics, and stem cells are NOT the top Twitter topics for the past year. Oh no, Justin Bieber and company still hold that honour but it isn’t because the science and research community are not on Twitter. Quite the contrary in fact. Top science writers and editors from journals such as Nature and Scientific American are active on Twitter. Many researchers funded by the Genome Centres can be found hiding in the Twitter reeds and politicians are taking to it in growing numbers.
Many scientists tend to shy away from anything that requires the conciseness of 140 characters which put them off the tool and I've heard grave concerns about project confidentiality being blown in a tweet. Haven't seen it happen yet and in general researchers can control their keyboard so I'm not convinced that is a real concern. Mary Canady at Comprendia in San Diego blogs extensively about how the life science can benefit from the new social media tools and many top companies and organizations have embraced the practice. As a means to get out information to people who might not otherwise ever read a full science article. Twitter is an excellent tool.
Genome Alberta will be at the Science Online Conferenceat North Carolina State University in January where a top line-up of science writers, journalists, authors and yes, even researchers will be on hand to talk about how science can and is taking advantage of the new media that let's face it, isn't really that new anymore. Except maybe to scientists.
@mikesgene and @GenomeAlberta are the 2 accounts you can follow to get a good indication of what can be done with Twitter in the name of science and you’ll never have to worry about coming across Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. There are thousands of tweets and tweeters sending out science related information every day and we can't possible follow all of them but we follow or are followed by some pretty good ones and every couple of weeks share what they have to say. We also like to include some of the non-science and non-Bieber tweets we think you might like as well.
Visit the links and consider signing up for your own account and help Genome Alberta promote genomics in Alberta and across Canada - 140 characters at a time.
@23andMe Blog Post- Patient-Centered Medicine and PatientsLikeMe: There’s nothing futuristic about personalized medicine,... http://bit.ly/sqsxNV
Twitter Snips is our bi-weekly hop, skip, and jump across the people and organizations we follow on Twitter or that we think have had something to say in the last couple of weeks.
There are millions of posts on Twitter and we can only follow so much and pick out the posts we think should get a little extra attention for one reason or another, but if you are new to the science side of Twitter this may whet your appetite.
Some of the tweets are fun, some insightful, and some have information we think the Genome Alberta community will want to check out. Be sure to follow @GenomeAlberta or @mikesgene
Here are this week's picks:
An international consortium led by a researcher at The University of Western Ontario has unveiled the first genome of the second-largest group of animals on Earth: Chelicerates.
Western’s Miodrag Grbic and a research team featuring scientists from Spain, Belgium, France, Portugal, USA, Chile, Germany and Switzerland have sequenced the genome of the spider mite, Tetranychus urticae, which is one of the world’s most cosmopolitan agricultural pests.
Feeding on more than 1,000 different plants – including 150 of agricultural importance, such as maize, soy, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers – the spider mite causes damages that approaches $1 billion annually. Insects and mites currently destroy 13 per cent of all potential crops.
“We have discovered this creature’s gene set and more importantly, we believe we have found its Achilles heel so that we can begin development of non-pesticide, alternative pest control measures,” says Grbic, a biology professor in Western’s Faculty of Science. “This species is renowned for developing resistance to pesticides. Within two years of introduction, spider mites are able to overcome new pesticides.”
The scientific team uncovered the genetic basis for mites’ ability to feed on many different plants, discovering that the spider mite is able to multiply and evolve new genes to detoxify toxic plant molecules and – most surprisingly – also ‘hijacks’ detoxification genes from bacteria, fungi and plants to combat the plant defences before incorporating them into its own genome.
By identifying genes that allow us to breed plants resistant to spider mites, introduce new tools for biotechnology-based pest controls and reduce spider mites’ ability to reproduce, this pioneering genomics work opens new avenues for sustainable agriculture. This will result in more pesticide-free food on Canadian tables.
While the spider mite is an important and harmful pest, Grbic’s group, in collaboration with nano-physicists Jeff Hutter at Western and Marisela Velez at Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, also discovered a novel benefit: spider mite silk.
This naturally occurring nanomaterial of extreme lightness has potential uses as a reinforcement in composite materials – including for the automotive and aeronautic industries – nanodevices and nanoprobes for investigating the function of cells, and as a matrix for tissue engineering and drug delivery.
These efforts represent the first complete genome of chelicerates – the second-largest group of animals in the world behind insects – which include spiders, scorpions, horseshoe crabs, ticks and mites.
Grbic is scheduled to brief senior leadership at the Ontario Genomics Institute of his team’s findings on Thursday, November 24. A media availability will follow at 11 a.m. The Ontario Genomics Institute is located at 101 College Street, Toronto.
For more information:
Senior Media Relations Officer,
The University of Western Ontario,
519-661-2111, ext 85165
cell: 519-520-7281 email@example.com
We also have a selection of videos for you courtest of the University of Western Ontario:
I was able to spend a couple of days earlier this week speaking at a Social Media Risks Conference in Toronto. Being surrounded by a room full of lawyers as attendees and as presenters, was a unique experience. After speaking at many events where the prevailing attitude is full speed ahead in the social media sphere, this time there was a strong note of caution.
From Facebook to Twitter, the legal eyes in the room were watching for the pitfalls and potential traps that can be encountered online. Whether it was breaching confidentiality with posts or being exposed to hackers they portrayed a scarey world out there.
There was general agreement however that by using some common sense and the usual technology protections social media was a valuable tool and is here to stay. Twitter was one of the tools talked about and with only 140 characters available for posting, it seemed that Twitter might even be a safer tool to use. As you are in full control of who you follow (and you can block people for following you) and what you write, Twitter can be a safe place to play. We use it extensively here at Genome Alberta to share genomics news, distribute news releases, and to keep in touch with science writers and journalists. We are careful about who we follow and which links we click on and every couple of weeks we share some of our findings with you.
We've checked the links and we are confident you will find them interesting, useful or entertaining and some case all of that at once.
Canadian scientists open gene database to public, create new opportunities for biotechnology industry
Researchers from across Canada have identified the genetic makeup for a large number of medicinal plant species and are making the codes available to scientists and the public on-line.
A nation-wide group of researchers, led by the University of Calgary’s Dr. Peter Facchiniand Dr. Vincent Martin of Concordia University in Montréal, are unraveling the genetic blueprints of 75 plant species that have potential applications in the pharmaceutical, natural health product, food and chemical industries. Previously, the efforts of scientists were focused on a fairly small numbers of plant species.
“The creation of a public resource of genetic information for plants that produce a large number of important and valuable natural products is an important milestone in our project,” says Facchini, a professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary and co-leader of the PhytoMetaSyn Project, which started two years ago and involves scientists from universities and research institutes from across the country.
“We are completing the analysis of the genetic codes for nearly 75 plant species and are making them accessible on-line as they become available with the hopes of having the entire set in our web portal by the end of February 2012. Currently more than half of the 75 species are available on our website.”
Plants contain specialized enzymes encoded by their unique genes that make them effective producers of medicines, flavors, fragrances, pigment, insecticides and other chemicals. Many of these compounds are still produced commercially from plants. Having access to such genetic information is a critical aspect of their research, which targets the development of technologies to re-create plant pathways in microbes such as yeast.
New compounds not found in nature:
Synthetic biology, as it is known, also has the potential to combine genes from different plants to make new compounds not found in nature. For example, Facchini’s groundbreaking discovery of the genes that allows the opium poppy to make codeine and morphine has led the way to making effective painkillers in pharmaceutical factories, or creating plants that will only produce the more-valuable codeine. Other species being studied have a diverse range of medicinal applications ranging from anti-plaque agents, wart removal to anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer treatments.
“Genomic information of that nature and scale is a treasure trove for synthetic biologists,” says PhytoMetaSyn co-leader Vincent Martin, a professor in the Concordia Department of Biology and Canada Research Chair in Microbial Genomics and Engineering. “It provides access to many genes or parts that can be used to produce molecules on an industrial scale.”
The project also has a team looking at the ethics, economics, legal and social implications of the science. “An interesting question is, who actually owns this genetic information?” asks Facchini. “We’re releasing it publically because we feel it belongs to everyone. We discovered it, but we didn’t invent it.”
Dr. Tania Bubela, from University of Alberta’s School of Public Heath, studies ethical issues relating to synthetic biology in the PhytoMetaSyn Project. “As with all new fields of research, maintaining the trust of the public and the regulators is key,” says Bubela. “What scientists do at this early stage will determine directions in the future.”
Funding large scale genetics projects, or many other science research projects for that matter, is often a complex process.
Often the projects we fund can have a long list of co-funders and organizations, companies, or academic institutions that have made in-kind contributions. It is the reality of basic research that few public or private entitites can take on 100% of the cost and risk of a major project so I wasn't entirely surprised when I got 2 unexpected media releases today mentioning Genome Alberta but about news we still hadn't been informed of.
It involved the sequencing of the canola genome, a project that Genome Alberta helped kick start several years ago and that we are still involved in to some extent.
The “Canadian Canola Sequencing Initiative” (CanSeq) set out to sequence the genome of Brassica species,including canola. It was a collaborative project involving the National Research Council, Agriculture and Agri‐Food Canada, Genome Alberta and nine Industrial partners and the genomic resources developed from the project should prove to be a major milestone in plant genetics. Understanding the full complement of genes involved in economically important processes such as oil content, and resistance to drought and diseases in canola and related crops, will allow for the development of new varieties.
The first draft of B. rapa was completed in 2010 in collaboration with the international Brassica research community. The first draft of the B. oleracea was also completed with international collaborators (US, French and UK teams) and CanSeq played the lead role in that assembly.
Things can get lost in the funding shuffle so a belated congratulations to everyone involved in the sequencing project and here is one of the media releases that was released about the genome sequencing:
Last week was a busy one for me attending BIO 2011 in Washington, D.C. so Twitter Snips is a bit late.
Apart from helping to fly the Genome Alberta flag at booth 3705 I also did a series of live streamed interviews ( scroll through http://genomealberta.ca/blogs to hear some of the interviews ) and did some blogging for the BIO organizers.
Inevitably it also meant some time spent on Twitter. There was a lot of tweeting going on from BIO and if you followed the stream of 140 character posts you saw that tweets were coming from many countries and often linking you back to foreign languange stories. I spent some time in the media room and noticed many of the 200 plus media on hand were also spending their own share of time checking out social media tools - including Twitter.
The hashtags (searchable terms) for the various BIO events were busy and I have included many of those posts in this week's list.
It is a very small slice of what Twitter has to offer to scientists, researchers, or anyone interested in biotech and science communications but I hope it will give you a flavour of what you can find if you take the time to look.
Sometimes it is what happens off camera or before the microphone is turned on that determines how good an interview will be.
While I was finishing off the editing and saving of an interview at BIO2011 in Washington, Dr. Paul Offit was brought to my table by BIO's Jennifer Spector. They both sat down while my audio file was saving and we had a few minutes to chat.
Dr. Offit was there to be interviewed about the Biotech Humanitarian Award he had received earlier in the day, but as we were still getting set up he mentioned the Vancouver - Boston Stanley Cup series and the aftermath. I asked if he was a Boston fan and as it turned out he and Jennifer were both from Philadelphia and were Flyer fans. From there we talked about the speed of the game, the riots in Vancouver and the quieter celebration in Boston, and as Dr. Offit and I are a little closer in age we even had the chance to talk about the Original Six teams. The 3 of us talked about anything except the interview I was about to do with an award winning scientist.
Dr. Offit is well deserving of his award so his expertise could carry the discussion a long way and I had at least prepped myself enough to ask some of the right questions and counted on him for even more right answers. Paul Offit, MD is currently Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Centerat The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He was selected as the 2011 Honoree in recognition of his 25 years spent dedicated to developing RotaTeq, one of the main vaccines currently used to fight rotavirus, a disease that is the leading cause of severe, dehydrating diarrhea in infants and young children. Dr. Offit has earned a reputation as an expert on vaccines, immunology, and virology and is credited with cutting through misinformation to educate parents on the health benefits of vaccinating their children.
The time flew by, Dr. Offit was animated and excited about his work, and it all went well in large part because we had established some level of common ground before I hit the record button. When it comes to talking about science we can't always count on science alone to carry the full load. Sometimes you just need to know when to sit back and chat.
As with the other interviews I did at BIO, this went out live on the Internet live and here is a version(with only a couple of edits) of my favourite interview of the day. In the course of the interview Dr. Offit mentions the increased incidence of measles in the U.S. Here is a story from the Globe and Mail that will offer some more insight into the problem. The return of measles: Where did we go wrong?
If you want to vote for the entries that will become the People's Choice Awards you have until May 20th.
Go to http://www.google.com/events/sciencefair/vote.html and you'll see the entries by age categories. The page can be a bit quirky in Internet Explorer 9 but works fine in Googgle Chrome.
You can vote once in each category and there are some incredible projects in there. Whether or not you support the Canadian entries they are all worth looking at, and picking one to vote for just to let the kids know people are watching.
For some in academia and corporate or government research, it is difficult to imagine that biohacking amounts to more than substandard, amateur tinkering. After all, the Human Genome Project took a decade and the staggering sum of US$2.7 billion to complete. How can mere citizens possibly master such difficult and costly science in ill-equipped home labs? It turns out that the biohacking process is much easier and cheaper than one would think.
For one thing, computing muscle is easy to obtain and quite cheap these days. For another, custom strands of DNA for bioengineering projects can easily be ordered online. And lastly, biohackers, also known as biopunks, are very adept at rigging inexpensive home versions of expensive lab equipment and acquiring cheap chemicals from their own kitchens, health food stores and online. Before we take a look at tools and resources readily available to do-it-yourself (DIY) biohackers around the globe, please view this short video as a demonstration of how biohacking can be done literally anywhere. In this case, DNA extraction is performed in a tent at a cost amounting to pocket change.
The Mountain Pine Beetle is on the move not just from one tree to another, but across tree species. A group of researchers funded in part by Genome Alberta, have conclusive evidence that the Mountain Pine Beetle is now invading jack pine. The usual host for the Mountain Pine Beetle is the lodgepole pine, and now that the beetle has crossed over to another host, it is poised to move east across the boreal forest.
It has long been suspected that the beetle was invading hybrid tree species, but using newly developed DNA genotyping and location data, the University of Alberta team found that pure jack pine are now being attacked by the beetle and the blue-stain fungi the beetles injects into the tree. The discovery was largely due to the work of U of A molecular ecologist Catherine Cullingham, first author of a paper published online today in the journal ‘Molecular Ecology’. ( the open access version is available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05086.x/full )
“Tracking the pine beetle’s progression and telling jack pine from the hybrid species took a lot of work” said Cullingham. “It was tricky, but our research team used molecular markers to conclusively show that the latest pine species to be attacked are indeed jack pine.”
University of Alberta Researcher Janice Cooke points out that the “Jack pine is the dominant pine species in Canada’s boreal forest. Its range extends east from Alberta all the way to the Maritime Provinces.” The infected area of north-central Alberta is a gateway area into the boreal forest. The paper also suggests that apart from the new host species opening up a new range for the beetle to attack, the risk could be made worse by future climate change.
“Forest Managers now have to recognize the fact that before there was a barrier as the beetle occurred only in lodgepole pine, but now it is occurring into the boreal so it can continue spreading. Forest Managers in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario are going to have to be cognizant of this potential and the potential impact on their forests.” said Cullingham.
The current Mountain Pine Beetle outbreak has affected over 14 million hectares of forest land in Western Canada. It is the largest outbreak documented since record taking began 125 years ago.
Genome Alberta’s President and CEO David Bailey said, “This is an excellent team led by Dr. Janice Cooke and with this new information on the MPB’s ability to survive and multiply on other pine tree sources it places pressure on the researchers to find a means of slowing the beetle migration before it has infected and destroyed even more of our northern boreal forests.”
The research is to be published online today in the journal, Molecular Ecology. This research is being conducted by the Tria project and is funded by the Government of Alberta through Genome Alberta, Genome British Columbia, and Genome Canada.
About Genome Alberta:
Genome Alberta is a publicly funded organization that initiates, funds, and manages genomics research and partnerships. We are based in Calgary but lead projects around the province and participate in a variety of projects across the country. We are one of Canada's six Genome Centres and work closely with these centres to advance the science and application of genomics, metabolomics, and many other related 'omics'. Apart from the scientific contributions and advances that come from our research, we contribute directly to the economy and have put almost 20 million dollars into salaries, benefits and consumables since we were created in mid 2005.
For the latest in life science news visit our GenOmics application at http://facebook.genomealberta.ca or visit us on the web at http://genomealberta.ca
For more information or to arrange an interview:
Director of Corporate Communications
We also have a series of images related to the new Mountain Pine Beetle findings:
Twitter likes to point out that "You don’t have to build a web page to surf the web and you don’t have to tweet to enjoy Twitter" and here on Twitter Snips we give you a chance every 2 weeks to surf a very small snippet of the 95 million Tweets that go out in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish every day.
I agree with the folks at Twitter that you don't have to post, but there is definitely some value in taking the time to read what is out there. The information you'll come across will suprise you, inform you, and sometimes make you smile.
For those not familiar with the shorthand used on Twitter to work around the 140 character limitation, here you'll find in this installment of Twitter Snips,
- # is used for searching on Twitter. There is no fixed vocabulary so you can use # before any term to make it searchable
- bit.ly, ow.ly and tinyurl are some of the service used to take those really long links and make them compact
The Life Science community has been relatively slow to pick up on the use of social media but it is becoming an increasingly useful tool. Give it a try and leave a comment to let me know how it turns out for you.
A few weeks ago I compiled a list of writers from Canada who wrote, blog or tweeted about the Life Sciences.
The online line world is a big one so not surprisingly I missed some and promised to update the list and here it is. I have no doubt there are still a few I'm missing but what a better way to shake out some of the missing names than by putting out what I have so far.
Check them out and in the meantime consider following me as @mikesgene or Genome Alberta as @GenomeAlberta. There is lots of crossover between the accounts and the@mikesgene account moves outside the Life Sciences and covers more about science communication and social media.
If you have some ideas for names to add to this list drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Just to follow up on my last blog post, here is the media advisory that went out yesterday on the event via Marketwire, followed by an excerpt from Hansard:
Mike Lake, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry and Member of Parliament for Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont, will deliver remarks on behalf of the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, at Genomics on the Hill. This unique event will showcase some of Genome Canada's innovative projects in genomics and proteomics.
Date: Monday, November 22, 2010
Time: 6:00 p.m.
Location: Room 256-S, Centre Block
Parliament Hill , Ottawa
Due to Parliament Hill security requirements, media are requested to RSVP to:
Office of the Honourable Tony Clement
Minister of Industry
Lynn Meahan - Press Secretary
On Wednesday, November 17th, the Honourable. Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie rose in the Senate to recognize the 10th Anniversary of Genome Canada and to encourage politicians to attend Genomics on the Hill:
Honourable senators, this year, one of our country's true success stories celebrates an important milestone. For 10 years now, Genome Canada has planted the Canadian flag on one of the most exciting frontiers of science — genomics. By unlocking the mysteries of our genes, scientists are literally learning the language of life itself.
Through large-scale projects, Genome Canada has enabled Canadian scientists to make groundbreaking discoveries, propelling sectors from fisheries to forestry, agriculture, health and the environment.
By developing the technological infrastructure critical for this kind of scientific research, Genome Canada has empowered Canadian scientists to make such remarkable contributions as sequencing the virus for severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS, and the H1N1 "swine flu."
Genome Canada has now reached an inflection point, a time when it translates the last decade of research into applications that will dramatically improve human health, strengthen economic competitiveness and enrich our society.
On Monday, November 22, Genome Canada will hold a special reception, "Genomics on the Hill," giving parliamentarians the opportunity to see firsthand some of its most exciting projects and to talk with the scientists that are leading them.
I invite all honourable senators to join Genome Canada and me at that event in Room 256-S, Centre Block, and to celebrate 10 years of Canadian scientific excellence
"My colleagues and I gave up that facts would carry the day"
Those words came from Michael Mann, PhD on Sunday at the 48th Annual New Advances in Science plenary session put on by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. He is a Professor of Meteorology and Director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and those words practically sent a chill through the room full of science journalists.
Mann was one of the scientists caught up in the controversy surrounding leaked e-mails from hackers who broke into the University of East Anglia's computer system and used selective quotes to claim that concern about man-made global warming was trumped up science. He was vindicated of any wrongful scientific conduct but the misinterpretation of that stolen e-mail data continues. His presentation focused on his research, his views about what lies behind the climate change controversy and he shared some of his feelings about some of the political and personal attacks he has had to endure as a result.
While much of his talk was about the science and his well known hockey-stick graph , his comments about climate change politics resonated with everyone on hand as a familiar concern - just never put quite so bluntly by someone so well known. A whole session was devoted to science literacy or perhaps more appropriately science illiteracy as panelist Chris Mooney described it in his subsequent blog postat Discover Magazine. Links to his post have been tweeted and retweeted througout the weekend by the #sciwri10 attendees and while it may not hold absolute statistical validity, those tweets are indicative of the concern felt by science journalists.
Many of the sentiments from Michael Mann and from the panel on the decline of science literacy are also echoed in an excellent publication called Science and the Media from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and several of the contributors to the publication are here at the Science Writers 2010.
So it is with the same kinds of concern that here in Canada have results of a national Angus Reid Vision Critical survey, commissioned by Let’s Talk Science and Amgen Canada Inc.
28 % of Canadian teens ages 16-18 years believe that science has no relevance to everyday life
36 % of 16-18 year olds think that science is boring
37% Canadian teens aged 16 to 18 are interested in taking a science course at the post-secondary level
On the upside however:
37 % of female students and 29 % of male students agree that if fewer students pursue science then this will have an impact on our society in the long term.
70% of Canadian teens agree that understanding science is more important today than when their parents were in school
Since it was created in 2006 Twitter has brought 100 million users on board. According to Twitter there are about 65 million tweets are posted each day or roughly 750 tweets sent each second. All those message run no more than 140 characters.
The science and biotech sectors have been slow to tap into the potential of Twitter and in Canada we are running even a bit futrther behind. However the science, research, and biotech communities that are using the service are active and coming up with a wide range of posts. As @mikesgene and @GenomeAlberta we are also active online sharing information, re-posting stories from GenOmics, and helping out the community wherever we can.
Every couple of weeks we share some of the more interesting tweets we come across with those in the genomics community who aren't quite ready to dive in.
Feel free to click on the active links and see what is out there and what lurk inside 140 characters.
@AlbertaEd All 6 #abed edu surveys now online until Oct 31 - Please complete if you haven't yet - Important feedback! #InspiringEd http://ow.ly/2TIOn
National Biotechnology Weektook place from September 17th to the 24th and while it never became a trending topic across Twitter's sphere of influence it did get some of attention.
140 characters posts were tweeted and re-tweeted across the system numerous times during the week and Genome Alberta was in the forefront and got some special mentions from BIOTECanadafor our efforts. In twitter-speak the "hashtag" for the week was #NBW2010. Anything that was posted about National Biotech Week would be instantly searchable while anything without #NBW2010 would easily be lost in the millions of tweets posted every day.
What is perhaps most notable about the list is the lack of an Alberta presence much beyond what Genome Alberta posted. I used our @GenomeAlbertaand @mikesgene accounts to re-tweet many of the postings that appeared, posted every video and story I could find on ourGenOmics site,and added many of the events to our calendar. You'll find Ministers from several provinces in those videos on GenOmics or in the links below, and you'll even notice in this list that Glen Murray, Minister of Research & Innovation for Ontario does his own tweeting. Canada still has to catch up with the U.S. when it comes to socia media use and Alberta has to play catch up at the National level.
Check these links and the people connected to them and if you are from Alberta, join in somewhere along the line.
@ Great article on Albert Scardino speech at BioNova even in Halifax http://ow.ly/2Jx48 #NBW2010
@ Our bio-economy is worth $80 billion+ and has job network of 1 million+. See how we celebrated it this week http://ow.ly/2Jv5F #NBW2010
@ Interesting answers pouring in to our question of the day, bottom right at http://ow.ly/2Jp0X #NBW2010
@ Last day of Canada's #NBW2010, let us know: did you learn anything about biotech this week?
@ Last day! - Win art made from your DNA by trying this Genome Atlantic quiz - http://ow.ly/2JiQO #NBW2010
@ Transcript: @Glen4TC's comments at Queen's Park yesterday about National Biotech Week http://ow.ly/2Jih7 #NBW2010
@ CN Tower is lit up as the iBoL (International Barcode of Life). A Canadian led initiative to identify & record the DNA of each species
@ easy question: What discovery were Watson and Crick responsible for? Let us know at http://ow.ly/2Ji6j #NBW2010
@ Last Friday, National Post published a special supplement on biotechnology in Canada. Check it out online here http://ow.ly/2J0YK #NBW2010
@ Just voted! @BIOTECanadaNBW Interesting answers pouring in to our question of the day, bottom right at http://ow.ly/2Jp0X #NBW2010
@ #NBW2010 ended last week, but see news in Hot Topics and photos/videos in our gallery. Thanks everyone! http://ow.ly/2LAHm
@ Great Video - National Biotechnology Week Launch by @lifesciences_bc http://ow.ly/2LO0K #NBW2010
@ #NBW2010 ended last week, but see news in Hot Topics and photos/videos in our gallery. Thanks everyone! http://ow.ly/2LAHu
Here are some of the people who posted, re-posted, and generally gave the week some online profile with the tweets listed above:
@Christine_TVG is Christine Bennett from Santa Cruz, California. She is Assistant Conference Director, TVG which produces BioPartnering conferences that connect innovators and leaders in the global life science industry @CLSD is all about Canada's life sciences industry from BIOTECanada, the national industry association @crossborderbio is Jeremy Grushcow Ph.D, J.D. from Toronto, Ontario, practicing corporate law at Ogilvy Renault LLP @DivaBiotech is Ruby Gadelrab who is based in Silicon Valley. She describes herself as a Diva in Biotech Marketing, specializing in genomics, cancer research, personalized medicine and personalized genomics. Lover of food, social media and shoes @Glen4TC is Glen Murray, Minister of Research & Innovation Ontario, MPP Toronto Centre & Urbanist and who gets his own fingers working those tweets. @helenfilipe Adminstration Director, Corporate & Student Development Master of Biotechnoloy, University of Toronto @KathyRzeszutek is an Intellectual Property Lawyer based in Vancouver, B.C.
The science community has been slow to pick up on most forms of social media. Where you do find scientists poking around in the social media world though, there are some pretty good success stories, some beautiful failures and lots that lie somewhere in between. Many scientists and researchers have embraced Twitter, not to share thoughts on what they had for lunch, but to share quick ideas, links to research, and to advocate for funding. Our social media efforts including our GenOmics application will be part of a discussion called Experiments in new media: Beautiful failures and startling successes at the U.S. National Association of Science Writers Annual General Meeting and Conference at Yale this November. I'll be on that panel and like to think we won't fall into the 'beautiful failures' category, but why not visit the site at http://facebook.genomealberta.ca - just to make sure.
As @mikesgene and @genomealberta we follow or are followed by a variety of reseachers, science writers, and PR people involved in the science or research sectors. Every couple of weeks we bring you a few highlights from what we have found among the many postings. The links are safe and we generally try to make sure the people behind the posts have a credible pedigree.
I'm not an artist. I'm not even a bad artist. I just don't quite understand how the picture inside someone's head gets projected on to a canvas, a piece of paper, the back of a napkin, or a digital screen or tablet.
Words are another matter. I've spent most of my life working with words to take what is tucked into the folds and pathways of my mindseye and giving it some life outside my head. Which means I'm directing those skills into a couple of challenges over the next few weeks. The first is our Annual Report and I certainly won't dwell on that one or you'll stop reading right now.
The other challenge is using words to motivate you to create a piece of digital art for us.
I'll start by using someone else's words. Pablo Picasso no less, who said, " Everything you can imagine is real” .
He took what was splashing around inside his head and gave it to the world around him. He was a pacifist and later in his career he used his art to express his disdain for war and his desire for peace. His art made him a more political creature and his fame probably protected him from the Nazis during the war. His personal life did not hold up well to public scrutiny and it often showed in his art. The line between what he imagined and what was real was like a double helix crossing back and forth.
You may not be a Picasso but we're asking you to imagine biotechnology and then make it real in a digital work of art.
Maybe you think biotechnology will result in a Gattaca like future. Maybe you appreciate the fact that Canada led the world in sequencing the SARS virus genome. Maybe you feel that agricultural biotechnology will help feed the world - providing we get it right.
Whatever you can imagine we want you to put it into a digital work of art.
We have a first prize of $300.00 and lessor cash prizes for second and third. We'll display your work online and we'll try to find just the right place for your creation in our print publications.
Words will help you get started but how about a picture that is worth well over a thousand words to really provide some inspiration:
We did it once before and we've decided it is time to do it again. Genome Alberta is holding a new digital art contest leading up to Biotechnology Week in Canada.
Digital artists rely heavily on technology to express themselves just as technology is crucial for our genomic researchers to make their discoveries. This art competition will challenge artists around the world to explore the complex interaction between the science of biotechnology and the societal, ethical, legal, and public policy world we live in.
Every year BIOTECanada joins forces with industry, government and academia to mark National Biotechnology Week in Canada and this year we're asking you to join in the celebration of this 21st century biology. We'll help make it worth your while with some cash prizes and the chance for your entry to become part of our annual report and other print publications. We are accepting entries now.
The word biotechnology is credited to Karl Ereky who first used it around 1919 in a book originally published in German called Biotechnology of Meat, Fat and Milk Production in an Agricultural Large-Scale Farm. However many of those same biotech practices have been around for thousands of years in the production of wine, yogurt, bread or many medicinal medicine.
While it may not be new, it can be controversial, especially as we use high tech practices to create new seed varieties or produce new pharmaceuticals. Genetically modified organisms or GMOs often raise the spectre of Frankenfood varieties out to do damage to the planet. Yet these are the same techniques which produce drugs like insulin, insecticides made from natural ingredients, or are used to produce alternative fuels from wood chips or algae. From an economic perspective, Canada has more than 550 companies and a bio-based economy which adds just over 78 billion dollars to the economy.
As you create your digital magic keep this definition from BIOTECanada in mind: Biotechnology is the application of science and technology to living organisms as well as parts, products and models thereof, to alter living or non-living materials for the production of knowledge, goods and services.
You are asked to attach your submission in an e-mail to email@example.com and include your name, title of your work, and your mailing address. Please put ' Art Contest Submission from your last name ' ( insert your last name only ) in the subject line. We'll post the entries online and the world will be asked to vote on the submissions. The top ten vote getters as of September 24th, 2010 will go before a panel of judges from the biotechnology sector and from the art world who will choose the top 3 entries for prizes.
There will be a prize of $300.00 for first, $200.00 for second, and $100.00 for third place.
We kicked open the entry door on August 1st so get the creative juices flowing, think about the complex world we live in, and produce your masterpiece.
Then get your friends to help vote you up to the top 10 by going to http://www.genomealberta.ca/vote.aspx
Canada's Tourism Commission has set up outdoor 8′ x 10′ interactive Twitter walls in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City. The idea behind the really big tweets is to show Americans how much fun Canadians can be by the way we tweet about our country.
Whether you are in one of these cities or not, if you’re an American you can enter a contest for a free trip up north by following @keep_exploring ( that is how names are managed in Twitter by the way and followers and following is the key to be a success on Twitter) , and replying to the account with your dream Canadian vacation. The Twitter board will display the postings directly related to the promotion and other posts found through specific Canadian search terms.
Here’s the promo video put together by the Canadian Tourism Commission:
Almost 600 people or organizations follow us on Twitter and we in turn keep track of just over 100 similar Twitter accounts.
The range we manage to cover in those we follow or those who track our 140 character posts is chosen to help spread awareness of who Genome Alberta is and what we do and includes:
Local event companies or people
Corporate Twitter accounts for biotech or life science companies
Most of our Twitter connections are in Canada and the U.S. but we also have a good overseas following in the U.K. and Australia. Every 2 weeks we like to share some of the hi-lites we've come across on Twitter. The links have been checked to make sure you're not going into the land of spam and we like to feature the relevant, in some cases the irreverent, the interesting, and some that are there, well, just because.
Be sure to visit them, follow them and tell them @mikesgene sent you:
This week Genome Canada is hosting the 3rd event in the GPS Series in Ottawa.
Though the theme was chosen months ago it couldn't have ended up being more timely as it is all about direct-to-consumer genetic testing.
The U.S. FDA is coming down hard on DTC companies such as 23andMe or Pathway Genomics where there is a suggestion that the tests have some medical utility. 5 companies have received the letters which can be found on the FDA site.
While the theme and presentations for the GPS events have been in the works for some time you can bet the presenters have been doing some last minute tweaking to bring recent events into the discussion. None of the companies in the field are scheduled to be presenting at the conference but it is still an interesting line-up of speakers who will be able to address many of the issues facing consumers, companies, and regulators involved in direct-to-consumer genetic testing.
Here is a quick overview of the people on the agenda:
In the last Twitter Snips I used a painting from around 1640 to make a point about the modern world of Twitter and this week I came across yet another painting to help make a point.
This one is a 1922 painting by Paul Klee called the "Twittering Machine" and it is currently at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Klee certainly had no inkling of the online Twitter but he may just have had a sense of the noise that could be created when you tether live birds to a machine (in this case driven by a hand crank). The modern online Twitter has the potential to become nothing more than a 140 character noise machine, driven by technology. It is no better, or worse, than the people who add the content. Just like a printing press can be used for propganda, a video camera for pornography or dcumentaries, and a radio can bring us up-to-date news or music, Twitter is what you make of it and we try to make the most of this unique and sometimes controversial site.
As the Communications Director for Genome Alberta I use it for a number of things.
- When we had a statement read in the legislature wishing us good luck in our projects I was able to enlist the help of an MLA throughh Twitter.
- Links from people or organizations we follow help us find content for GenOmics and many original GenOmics stories make it back to Twitter which helps drive web traffic to our pages
- The Twitter community helps us re-post important information such as the recent announcement about the Genome Canada Large Scale Applied Research Competition
- We post links to all our blog entries and newsletters
- Twitter has helped us get new links from other blogger and science writers
In short Twitter has helped take an orginzation with a limited budget and small number of staff reach out across Canada, into the United States, and across the Atlantic.
Every 2 weeks here on Twitter Snips we give you a list of some of the more interestingly , and some just plain fun, postings we've come across. We've also offer a little bit of information on jsut who these people are - check the links and find out a little more for yourself.
That's the title of c1640 painting by Jacob Jordaens which he had borrowed from the title of a poem by his Dutch contemporary Jacob Cats. The painting depicts seven people, young and old, men and women, enjoying a bit of mindless enjoyment. Lots of food and drink on the table, a dog picking up scraps, and a couple of birds overseeing the action. The women seem to be singing, while a young man and a boy play the flute. In the 1600's twitter was generally associated with the sound of the flute or penny whistle. In 2010 Twitter has a whole new meaning but many people still tend to associate it with mindless enjoyment. There is definitely some mind numbingly bad posts on Twitter and the maxim of garbage in, garbage out, holds true.
It doesn't take long however for you to find the right people to follow, so you can eliminate people online for Jordaens' mindless enjoyment and find the ones who really do have something to say.
Genome Alberta is on Twitter as @mikesgene because as Communications Director for Genome Alberta I post the 'tweets' and respond to what people have to say. You'll find a little bit of me in many tweets ( I shared our end of May snowstorm with people who follow me ) , a little bit of Genome Centre business ( I've been promoting our upcoming information webinar on the Genome Canada competition ), a bit of biotech news ( we post stories from our GenOmics site ) , and some discussion about science communication in the 21st Century ( we are followed and follow many well known science journalists ).
The Silicon Alley Insider pegs the number of Twitter users under 24 at 30%. The flip side of that means that by far the majority of people tweeting their hearts out are over 24. Some people suggest the median age is 30. Accurate statistics can be hard to come by but it is probably not far off.
Genome Alberta is one of just over 10,000 Calgary users and we do our best to further the intelligent use of the tool and to promote interest in biotechnology in general while raising awareness of Genome Alberta specifically.
Every few weeks we bring you a few highlights from Twitter and here is this week's selection:
This is the 3rd BIO event I have attended, and the 1st where 2 pigs and a calf have attended as well. Not that they aren't welcome to attend - BIO is open to one and all - but the animals just don't seem to make the trip. Apart from some obvious logistical problems animals and biotech can be a touchy subject.
The calf looked like much like the cattle that roam around my own pasture every summer, but this was pretty special. It was a healthy looking prion protein-knockout cow produced by BioDak in South Dakota. In the next pen over were 2 genetically engineered young pigs from Revivicor. Genetically engineered animals can be used to produce antibodies for vaccine, bred to produce less methane in their waste, or in transplants.
Here is a quick explanation of the animal GE displays at BIO:
The Think and Drink panel I was on today at BIO 2010 with Mary Canady founder of Comprendia in San Diego and Karl Haro von Mogel, a PhD student at University of Wisconsin - Madison was actually called "Social Media - Master or Slave".
Jerry Johnson moderated the panel and there was some good discussion and points raised, but we probably should have considered adding "Inconvenient " to the panel title based on an experience earlier in the day.
Twitter. A chance to convey information in 140 characters or less.
No mean feat but you would be surprised what can be done either with tight writing, clever ideas, or links to solid content. Genome Alberta can be found tweeting away as @mikesgene .
In the meantime here are a few of the interesting bits we found winging their way through the twitterverse.
Twitter isn't for everyone but as a tool for outreach, awareness, and public or media relations it has a niche among the online tools. The biotech and life sciences sctor is slow to adopt it but we have been using it for some time now with a great deal of success.
Every story that Genome Alberta publishes to our GenOmics news site is headlined on Twitter
Our bi-weekly GE3LS Digest and GenOmics newsletters are headlined and linked on our Twitter feed
We are followed on Twitter by science writers, researchers, life science companies, government agencies, NGO's, and communications professionals
Genome Alberta tracks a similar range of people, companies and organizations
Genome Alberta is part of an International online community on Twitter
Using our Twitter feed we are able to cross-link everything we publish and we can see increased traffic to our site as the links move through the social network
And we find many interesting stories, news items, information, and contacts on Twitter
Every 2 weeks we share some of our Twitter finds here on our blog pages. All the links are checked to make sure they are 'safe' and the '@links' will take you to the profiles of some very interesting people.
Dip your toes into the social media world and follow us online as @mikesgene
Seriously - how could you not post such a headline because when you click on the link that is exactly what you'll find at the top of a story about a team of scientists, led by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis that has decoded the genome of a songbird. The Australian Zebra Finch to be exact.
While it is a clever story headline and a subsequent twitter posting, it is about a legitimate scientific event, that with the help of social media got people reading about the achievement. In many cases people well outside the science community heard about it and many science writers and journalists got wind of a story they might not come across otherwise.
Also big news among the science tweets and twits this week was the Myriad Patent case where the judge ruled 7 of the patents are invalid. Twitter's science and legal community posted within minutes of the decision coming down and over several days there were links to news stories and blog postings. The postings came from corporate accounts, scientists, science writers, academics and lawyers. If you ever wondered about the power of online media tools in the world of biotech or research you might want to take note of this. Conspicuous by their absence was Myriad itself while pundits, professors, post graduates, and professionals voiced their thoughts, opinions and predictions. We've included some of the twitter bits in this edition of Twitter Snips but in particular you should visit the web site for @genomicslawyer at http://www.genomicslawreport.com/ We have compiled many of the story links (not the Twitter postings ) on our GenOmics application at http://facebook.genomealberta.ca Apart from the featured stories on the ruling click on the News tab and you'll get a broad selection of news stories, blogs, videos, and images related to the ruling.
It isn't always easy to explain genetics and genomics to a non-scientist ( like me ) and Genetics for Dummies is a good start, but a particularly exciting read. I remember when I was working at Olds Agricultural College trying to learn about simple and recessive genes in the horse world and still have the occasional scary moment trying to remember the science behind breeding a cremello coloured (cream genes with a red or chestnut to produce cremello) horse.
However with powerful new graphics, animation, and video tools available plus the incredible sharing potential of the web, that learning process can become a lot easier.
For example, genomicseducation.ca: Exploring the gene scene is run by Genome British Columbia, one of the other members of the Genome Canada 'family. As the site itself points out "genetics and genomics can be fascinating but has a reputation for being difficult and/or boring. Plus, the field is always changing." I think they have found some good ways around that.
The site has put together some nice tools for activities, a glossary, and education resources broken down by grades.
What are really great though, are 5 new presentations uploaded in the last week or so.
I have embedded them all on this blog posting so you can watch them in sequence easily, and as with all embeded videos you can click on a video to go to the YouTube channel for genomicseducation where there are other presentations worth checking out.
I still shudder remembering my horse colour genetic chart but tools like this would have made life a lot easier.
Enjoy the series.
Consider this a short and sweet blog posting because I happened to come across this while working on some links for our PhytoMetaSyn project.
We hear a lot about synthetic biology but it isn't alway clear what it means. Thanks to Scientific American for offering up this explanation:
And from a Synthetic Biology Workshop I attended in the Fall of 2009 in Toronto, this quick image:
The 'bidding' for a spot on David Bradley's Periodic Table of Science Bloggers has been fast and furious for several days now. It started on March 18th when David, who is behind the sciencebase.com blog took the familiar Periodic Table and bent it a bit in a very clever manner that has turned out to be a big hit.
For instance the element formerly known as Lithium (Li) is now David Bradley on LinkedIn. Ti, or Titanium, becomes the sciencebase account on Twitter, and the link to the main sciencebase blog page replaces Antimony in the number 51 spot.
While David is a pretty busy guy online there is no way he could find enough of his own activities for the entire Table. Besides, David knows what science communication is all about and realised there was an opportunity to reach out to the online community of science bloggers and writers and put out the challenge to other people to finish off the table. I haven't had the opportunity to ask him, but I'm willing to bet he didn't expect to see everyone take to it so quickly. He suggested it would be nice to fill it before the end of the month but he filled in just 3 days. It wasn't bidding in the true sense of the word perhaps, because David wasn't out to sell the spots. Rather it was a case of everyone making a pitch to be included and trying to be inventive at time to make initials, subject matter or location fit an element.
This wasn't just a pitch exercise to come up with a neat graphic.
It is a hyperlinked table at http://www.sciencebase.com/periodic-table-of-david-bradley.html where can click on one of the elements and you'll jump to the new matching blog or website. It generated a lot of comments on the original blog postingand enough Twitter activity to spread the word. In the process everyone involved in posting their suggestions got a kind of a virtual introduction to each other and to their work, and anyone else following the comments likely had a whole new world of links open up.
David as @sciencebase and Genome Alberta as @mikesgene follow each other on Twitter and I'm pleased to say that I saw his post very early on and pushed Gallium out in favour of Genome Alberta's blog pages.
We are still waiting for the day that genetics or genomics becomes a major trending on Twitter but the past couple of weeks definitely showed the International science community is using the online tool and that genetics and personalized medicine have a niche worth holding on to.
Actress Glenn Close had her genome sequenced and it was immediately fodder for 140 character comments from fans, the media and the science community. With such a braod range of people posting the comments covered the gamut as well but it does show just what can happen and how you can create buzz that surpasses the significance of the story. @dgmacarthur commented on the story in his Genetic Future post: "Celebrity genomics without the Y chromosome: Glenn Close has her genome sequenced: Zoe McDou... http://bit.ly/bF3DrJ "
The Genomics Environments and Traits Conference also knows as GETS also made the round on Twitter. It is taking place in April and 23andMe co-founder Linda Aveymade this Twitter post about the event: " Darn, can't make it to Boston for this, http://www.getconference.org/ . One of a kind meeting of sequenced homo sapiens. Lilly is jealous!"
We tweeted part of our Epigenetics workshop and drew comments from all over the world including this one: "@chrisadieni@mikesgene It was thanks to @WhereBioBegins that I learned #epigenetics is where protein phosphorylation meets genomics. Anyone there agree?"
So all that talk you heard about Twitter being a place where people share information about what they had for breakfast? We're here to tell you that there is far more to it than that. Read more to see more from the tweeter set.
It turned out to be standing room only for our epigentics workshop on Friday, March 12th.
I introduced the workshop and some of the speakers in a previous blog post and thought a little follow up was in order. There were 40 people there from government, industry, academia, and non-for-profit and the range of interests covered both human and animal epigenetics. If there was a common theme it was that epigenetics is an important field of study to be in right now and that Alberta has such strong bioinformatics expertise as well as some strong niche science expertise, that we should be leading the charge in Canada.
We'll be making most of the presentation available to view here on our website but here is the first one of the day which came from Dr. Marv Fritzler who set the stage for some of the discussion around an epigenetics and personalized medicine strategy:
We didn't break any records for entries to our 'Where Bio Began For Me' video contest but that doesn't matter, we're happy with the exposure we did get.
We've come into contact with some interesting people over the last few weeks, raised the profile of our GenOmics application and our blog, and we have some new video content linked to us on YouTube.
And of course we have winners:
Christopher Dieni from Penn State and Mostafa Abdellateef from the Genome Canada Bioinformatics Platform.
They win the iPod Shuffle and we'll be in touch with them soon to arrange delivery of these tiny music machines.
It doesn't end there however, as we have more stuff to give away next week.
Twitter: a series of chirps or the high-pitched sound a bird makes.
A birds use its chirps, cheeps, and tweets to warn of danger, scare off predators, find a mate, protect its territory and to identify itself and its friends.
While the online microblogging tool version of Twitter is often dismissed as silly tweets more in line with canary chatter, perhaps we can learn a little from our feather friends. Tweety-bird let us all know when he saw the putty-cat and the online Twitter world lets us tell each other when know when we see things that interest us and cross all interest lines. No question you'll find your share of nonsense and the spammers have already started to move in, but such is the online world wherever you happen to click.
Genome Alberta can be found on Twitter as @mikesgene and we follow, or are followed by a wide range of people and organizations. There is I Am Biotech, one of the communication arms of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) in Washington D.C, Linda Avey one of the founders of 23andMe, PrionGirl who is actually Valerie Sim prion researcher, and Christopher Dieni originally from Montreal, went to school in Ottawa, and is now a postdoc in State College, at Penn State, researching cancer biochemistry.
Not a bad pedigree for a bunch of Twits and the rest of the people we keep in touch through Twitter are no less impressive. They cover the range of interests and careers from the media, to politics, to public relations, to science and medicine.
Every 2 weeks we compile some of the 140 character posting we come across and give you a sample to take you from the lab bench to the online bench. These are just the tip of the iceberg so if you really want to see what lies underneath then sign on to http://twitter.com and follow @mikesgene
It was one of those moments when you realise that you have to put to the test everything you've been saying about public relations, communications, and how wonderful social media is for building relationships.
It started on Monday when I clicked on a Twitter link from @sciencebase which took me to a new Facebook application from Sigma-Aldrich called Your Favourite Gene . Among the app's many features is the option to send your favourite gene to your friends. That was the 'uh-oh' moment because our GenOmicsapplication includes the same option and it was that feature that really gave us a social media boost in April of 2008. My first reaction to what I saw was that 'how dare they copy our work' but that quickly passed because that was certainly not what had happened and was no way to deal with the situation anyway. No, the real problem was that even though Facebook had just announced they have hit the 350 million active user mark, there are only so many people who will want to send a gene to their friends.
Sigma-Aldrich is the Goliath with a huge conglomeration of life science divisions and products, with offices and staff around the world. Genome Alberta is the David in the equation with our Calgary office of 8 people plus a few project managers scattered around the province. We are a not-for-profit research funding organization, Sigma probably has a social media budget bigger than our entire core budget for the year. Our GenOmics application was about to be crushed because I never really believed that whole David parble anyway.
We just didn't have a big enough slingshot.
That gem came from Nicholas Charney at the ALI conference on social media and government this morning. The words were immediately tweeted. Re-tweeted. And re-tweeted some more. Clearly it was one (of many) points from the morning speakers that struck home. Nick is on Twitter as @nickcharney by the way.
During the breakout session, in the questions posed after the presentations, and informally over coffee, it was also clear this was a common problem. Either social media was simply blocked in an organization so that no one could access the sites, or social media use was considered off limits as an organizational communications tool.
In the biotech community the mistrust of social media is probably even more acute.
Mary Canady a San Diego based biotech consultant, estimates that of the many life science companies around the world there are very few ( she figures only 30 or so) active blogs and not much more in the way of Twitter accounts. Mary has both a blog and Twitter presence and has put together a pretty good listing of biotech-type blogs at http://comprendia.com/2009/07/13/to-blog-or-not-to-blog/
Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene function that occur without a change in DNA sequence. Somehow the expression of a gene or its appearance is altered by a cause other than a change to the DNA. This new look can stay with the cell and go on for multiple generations.
In humans, epigenetic changes can result in diseases and disorders such as cancer, diabetes, mental illness and fetal alcohol syndrome. Though there is a great deal of interest in how changes to phenotype come about in people, epigenetics has a significant role in studying plants and their ability to acclimate and adapt. (think climate change or environmental conditions!). A plant's environment can cause specific changes to the way a plant behaves and what genes are expressed.
Now, take that concept and move it to research focused on the environment and the effect of environmental poisons or noxious substances. Such chemicals appear to be able to change the epigenetic status of a cell. Not only can the study of 'Epi-toxicology' give us an understanding of where things can go wrong but that knowledge could be applied to cleaning up tailings ponds in the oilsands.
There is a growing interest around the world in epigenetic because of the possibilities and because it just MAY gives us a little more responsibility or control over our own genome. Maybe the work could even mean that when I look at my own genomethere will actually be research that indicates that a change in behaviour or environment may mitigate any health challenges still to come.
A major conference is coming up in Singapore in August and significant work is going on at Johns Hopkins, Max Planck Institute for Immunology, the University of Queensland, McGill University in Canada, and here in Alberta at the Univeristies of Alberta, Calgary, and Lethbridge.
For a Nova TV episode on epigenetics go to www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/3411/02.html or get a look at the future of epigenetics on 'How Stuff Works' .
That's the nickel tour of epigenetics but the main focus for the Board discussion (and how often do you get blogs and Twitter feeds out of a Board meeting... ) was around a proposal by the University of Lethbridge to create an Alberta Institute for Epigenetics.
GE3LS: Genomics, Ethical, Environmental, Economic, Legal and Social
It is a mouthful and at a meeting of representatives from Canada's Genome Centres yesterday, there was some discussion about whether we should scrap the acronym in favour of something a little more user friendly. ELSA for instance is used in Europe and ELSI has more traction in the U.S. We pronounce it simply 'gels' and officially it is always written as GE3LS but having to do that superscript thing can be a bit of a pain and in some online instance almost impossible so it usually appears as GE3LS.
No matter what the acronym you choose however, there are many solid reasons to ensure we hang on to GE3LS and the concepts that are part of GE3LS as we plunge into the sometimes murky waters of the biology of the 21st century.
And the ideas get much more than lip service.
Over lunch at the BioEducators workshop this weekend there was some discussion about bioscience teaching resources. Not the lack of resources because there was no shortage of ideas and examples being passed around, but rather a place to find and share these resources.
Based on what everyone had to share, what the presenters suggested, and a few additions on my own that I have bookmarked here are some sites worth visiting.
We also talked about the value of a Wiki to share resources and we can only hope something like that comes to fruition.
In the meantime check these out, post a comment to add some more, and I'll keep compiling them and create some new webpages with the links.
You can also e-mail us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any ideas.
There couldn't be any more proof that personal genotyping has arrived. Vogue Magazine has a feature article titled Breaking the Code written by Rebecca Johnson in the May issue ( Can You Outsmart Your DNA? ).
Honest. First Navgenics opens up a store front operation in New York and now 23andMe is a Vogue feature. More importantly I purchased an issue of Vogue, and for anyone who knows me it is most certainly in my genes to be decidedly un-Vogue like.