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GE3LS Digest - June 16, 2011

The GE3LS Digest
A compendium of news and research from around the country and around the world

Date: June 16, 2011
This news digest is published by GE3LS at Genome Alberta. Feel free to forward to your colleagues.
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Entomologists launch the 5,000 Insect Genome Project (i5k)
The Initiative aims to sequence the genomes of 5,000 insects and other arthropods over the next five years in order to "improve our lives by contributing to a better understanding of insect biology and transforming our ability to manage arthropods that threaten our health, food supply, and economic security."

23andMe Database Surpasses 100,000 Users
"We started 23andMe to empower consumers with their own genetic information," said 23andMe Co-Founder and President Anne Wojcicki. "Given the chance, we believed people would want to use their own data to contribute to research. And they do. While we are thrilled that more than 100,000 people have turned to 23andMe to gain access to their genetic information, we are equally delighted that over 76 percent of those individuals have agreed to participate with us in research."

Costly wheat fungus' genome mapped
One of the most destructive wheat viruses is genetically structured to evade detection before infecting its host, a U.S. study mapping the fungus' genome found.

What Does Prenatal Genetic Testing Mean For Society?
Imagine being pregnant and taking a simple blood test that lays bare the DNA of your fetus. And suppose that DNA could reveal not only medical conditions like Down syndrome, but also things like eye color and height. And the risk for developing depression or Alzheimer's disease. And the chances of being gay.
So far that's still science fiction. But scientists have been taking some baby steps in that direction. And some ethics experts say it's time to start talking now about what that could mean for parents and society.

Research on Induced Pluripotent and Embryonic Stem Cells 'Inextricably Intertwined'
A new literature analysis confirms what stem cell scientists have been saying for some time: Studies of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are touted as an ethical alternative to human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), often involve hESCs as well. As a result, research that restricts funding for hESCs would also harm iPSC research.

Life insurance in the age of DNA testing
Scholars believe, with reason, that the use of this information in the context of insurance coverage could in the long term create a kind of psychosis that would cause clients to flatly refuse any genetic test, for fear that the result would make them uninsurable, even if these tests could end up saving their lives. Nonetheless, the Australian insurance industry did not budge. If an individual has already submitted to a genetic test, insurance companies want to be able to see it.

Ontario Stem Cell Initiative: Ontario Launches Province-Wide Stem Cell Research Partnership
Sixty-five stem cell research laboratories -- in Hamilton, London, Ottawa and Toronto -- have come together to launch a province-wide partnership aimed at making Canada an international leader in this revolutionary medical technology.

Studies: New Clues to the Genetic Roots of Autism
Random changes in genes, rather than changes handed down from parents, may be responsible for some cases of autism, say scientists who report in three new papers a major breakthrough in understanding where those genetic changes may lie.
The findings suggest that autism is a genetically complex disorder, involving perhaps hundreds of spontaneous changes in genes. The discoveries should help researchers gain a better understanding of the biology of the disorder and find targets for better treatments.

Personalized Medicine Redefines How Docs Treat Cancer
Imagine a world in which cancer isn't diagnosed according to where it is found on the body but according to genes found in the tumor itself. Patients with skin cancer, colon cancer and parathyroid cancer, for example, might be reclassified as "B-Raf mutation" patients and be treated with the same mutation-specific drugs. Instead of receiving breast cancer-specific chemotherapy, a breast cancer patient might join those with ovarian, uterine and cervical cancer to receive drugs targeted at inhibiting the PIK3CA mutation found in their tumors.

Are We Ready for the $1,000 Genome?
In a series of three posts at Genomes Unzipped, participants from the Race to the $1,000 Genome session at the Cheltenham Science Festival weigh in on the possibilities presented by less expensive sequencing technology.

Should babies be screened for untreatable diseases?
A new poll shows parents are split over whether their newborns should be screened for fragile X syndrome, the most common type of inherited mental disability.
The findings fuel an ongoing debate over which conditions should be part of mandatory newborn screening programs in the U.S.

Tests Reveal Mislabeling of Fish
Scientists aiming their gene sequencers at commercial seafood are discovering rampant labeling fraud in supermarket coolers and restaurant tables: cheap fish is often substituted for expensive fillets, and overfished species are passed off as fish whose numbers are plentiful.

Labelling cloned offspring is impractical
Last week, the FSA board formally changed its advice to allow food from the offspring of cloned cattle and pigs into the food chain without authorisation under the novel foods regulation. The change, which is effective from now, brings the UK into line with the European Commission on the offspring of cloned animals.

Gallup: Young, older Americans divided on issues of sex
Overall, Americans saw divorce, the death penalty, gambling, embryonic stem cell research, and premarital sex as morally acceptable. Meanwhile, large majorities were against extramarital affairs, polygamy, cloning humans and suicide, the poll showed.

Chip Produces DNA in Record Time
Bioengineers have designed a 1x3 inch chip that can produce custom-made segments of DNA in two days. Current methods take two weeks and require large equipment and significant human labor.
Creating and copying novel pieces of DNA quickly and inexpensively could have broad implications in the production and screening of new drugs, as well as replacing current technologies for genetic cloning, the researchers say.

Genome selection implemented in US poultry breeding programs
"New developments in genomics have provided opportunities to enhance breeding programs in poultry by being able to genotype large numbers of individuals for tens of thousands of genetic markers across the genome at a reasonable cost," remarked Dr. Jack Dekkers of Iowa State University, when presenting to breeder specialists and geneticists at the recent 2011 National Breeders Roundtable, sponsored by the Poultry Breeders of America and US Poultry & Egg Association.


Addressing Race and Genetics: Health Disparities in the Age of Personalized Medicine
But the health care and scientific communities will still have to answer important questions about who will have access to these new medical advancements as they develop. Health disparities persist between different groups for various reasons including access to care, lifestyle factors, socioeconomic status, and genetics. Studies indicate that minorities have less access to health care and generally receive a lower quality of care. Studies show that African Americans have lower incidence of breast cancer than white women, for example, but suffer greater mortality. Heart disease is widespread among minorities and a leading killer in the African American community.

Personalized medicine can potentially alleviate these discrepancies since it could allow physicians to prescribe medication that treats the disease more effectively. African American women suffer from a more aggressive form of breast cancer that tends to be estrogen resistant, for example. Profiling the genes of the tumor and the genes of the patient could allow a doctor to prescribe the most effective drug regimen.

Yet certain issues regarding racial and ethnic health disparities need to be addressed in order for personalized medicine to offer the greatest benefit to all. This paper examines these issues in detail and then offers some ethical guidelines for policymakers to consider.


2011 BIO International Convention
June 27-30, 2011
Washington, DC

The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity: 18th Annual Summer Conference
July 14-16, 2011
Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL
The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity certainly knows how to get your attention for a conference:
The Scandal of Bioethics: 2011 Summer Conference preview video.

Symposium on Ethics of Environmental Health
August 24-27, 2011
Prague, Czech Republic

Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine
8th November 2011
Hinxton Hall, Cambridge UK

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