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January 15, 2019


Welcome to the Genomics in Society Digest

Genomics in Society: Genomics and its related Ethical, Economic, Environmental, Legal and Social aspects.
This news digest is published by Genomics in Society at Genome Alberta. Feel free to forward to your colleagues.

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New Year Reminder

As this is our first full Genomics in Society Digest for 2019, just a reminder about the changes we made as 2018 was coming to a close. Genomics in Society will be coming to you around the middle of every month instead of every 2 weeks. If you subscribe to our GenOmics Newsletter, you’ll see it in your Inbox at the beginning of every month. Why not make a New Year’s resolution that is easy to keep by subscribing to both. Go to our newsletter page and make the commitment!

In the meantime you can help us be ensuring that info@genomealberta.ca is whitelisted in your email. We would also appreciate hearing from you about what content you would most like to see by sending a note to Mike Spear, Genome Alberta’s Communications Director.

Council on Science and Innovation

No, the latest CSI is not a new television series for policy wonks. It is a new federal body which will provide independent advice to Science and Sport Minister Duncan and to Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Minister Bains. The CSI will replace the Science, Technology, and Innovation Council and details on its role were outlined in the 2018-2019 ISED Departmental Plan. The Council is expected to have a Chairperson and 11 members and the search is onto fill the position. The first announcement was posted on January 8th and you can click here for all the details.
Source: Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada

Genomic tools for crossbred cattle in the works

It took a while for this story to make it from the 2018 Canadian Beef Industry Conference in August in London, Ontario to Canadian Cattlemen online, but we are glad to see it did. The article references Genome Alberta, and one of our funded researchers Graham Plastow is featured. He says genomics has the potential to improve the efficiency of commercial cattle.
Source: Canadian Cattlemen

The EU’s wholesale refutation of Seralini’s anti-GMO ‘science

The question of how safe genetically modified food really has played out in a very similar manner to the vaccine debate. Flawed studies, poor communication, and the viral spread of misinformation have made it increasingly difficult to gain broad acceptance of the technology. However, this article looks at several studies underway which offer some hope in raising public awareness of the differences between science fact and science pseudofiction.
Source: Bioscription Blog

Neogen acquires Delta Genomics animal genomics laboratory

Delta Genomics began its success story as a University of Alberta spin-off project which eventually transitioned into an independent, fee-for-service (while remaining not-for-profit) genomic testing service. The company has been providing genetic testing services to the livestock sector to help producer with pedigree verification and the identification of specific traits.

In early January Delta announced the sale of its testing services to Neogen, a Michigan-based company which develops and markets food and animal safety products. The company said in its release that Delta's laboratory operations will be renamed Neogen Canada, and become Neogen's fifth animal genomics laboratory — joining locations in the U.S., Scotland, Brazil, and Australia.

U.S. Senate confirms Kelvin Droegemeier to lead White House science office

It has been a long process, but the White House finally has a science advisor. Kelvin Droegemeier was appointed in August but did not make it through the confirmation process until January 2nd. He is an expert in extreme weather, a member of the National Science Board, and has credibility with the science community and with media. He started to spend time at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as soon as he received the presidential nomination but can now start to offer some concrete policy advice and recommendations. Staffing and funding for his office is down and the current White House administration is not known to embrace science but Droegemeier’s confirmation is encouraging.
Source: ScienceBuffs and CNN

Cow burps actually emit more carbon than cow farts

Daily Vice is a feature from Vice Media, a North American digital media and broadcasting company with its roots in Canada. Vice Media has done some in-depth and solid reporting over the years and branched out into TV programming. The Daily Video section is all original content and recently featured the work of our dairy project led by Filippo Miglior and Paul Stothard. The 4-minute report is a quick summary of the project’s top objectives and given the site’s traffic will likely attract a generous number of clicks. Hopefully the burps and farts will beat out “5 questions you’ve always wanted to ask a witch’ and a Vice reporter’s intrepid dive into trying Facebook’s Dating App “so you don’t have to”.

James Watson had a chance to salvage his reputation on race. He made things worse.

For more than 2 decades the American Masters on PBS has profiled men and women and organizations that have had a significant impact on American culture. Artists, musicians, politicians, activists, and scientists have all been part of the series. The latest person to be laid bare was Nobel-winner James Watson and according to the New York Times, he did not fare well. Considered to be one of the founders of modern genetics he has always held controversial views on the link between race and our genes and he took the opportunity in front of a camera to repeat his views. The episode is not available to view online in Canada, but American Masters is frequently repeated so keep an eye on your PBS schedule. In the meantime see what the NY Times had to say.

After the documentary aired, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory said it was revoking Watson’s honorary titles, which include chancellor emeritus, Oliver R Grace professor emeritus, and honorary trustee. Cold Springs had previously removed him as Chancellor in 2007 after Watson’s public comments on genetics and race.
Source: New York Times

Satisfying popular curiosity: What is genetic counseling?

When we talk about career options that are part of the future of work, we tend to think about high tech jobs for coders and data analysts. One of the fastest growing careers however is for genetic counsellors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States has an online Public Health Genomics Knowledge Base of published scientific literature, CDC resources, and other material related to the translation of genomic discoveries in health care and disease prevention. The most popular search term is “genetic counselling” says this blog post from the CDC.

A no-deal Brexit seriously threatens UK universities

Prof Janet Beer is vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool and president of Universities UK. In this article she says that 50,000 EU staff, 130,000 EU students, and 15,000 UK students studying in Europe face an uncertain future because of the Brexit uncertainty.
Source: The Guardian

Meanwhile, a no-deal in the government shutdown in the U.S is starting to cause damage to the country’s science. One researcher says in a Washington Post story that bears, rattlesnakes, and bad weather have not stopped his data collection, but the shutdown has.

Monitoring the environment with artificial intelligence

Researchers from the University of Geneva are demonstrating that environmental genomics and AI are a powerful combination. The team used genomic tools to sequence the DNA of microorganisms and then used AI to mine the data. Their works has been published in Trends in Microbiology.
Source: PhysOrg

In an era of misinformation, alternative medicine needs to be regulated

This commentary by University of Alberta’s Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy Tim Caulfield, originally appeared in the Globe & Mail. He makes the case that misleading medical claims spread faster than the truth and that government needs to take steps to protect the public from the big business of alternative medicine.
Source: Folio

And while reading what Tim Caulfield has to say about alt-medicine, you can ponder the question of whether he has become the Canadian nemesis of pseudoscience.

Identifying cystic fibrosis earlier and more reliably

With the help of funding from Genome Canada, scientists at McMaster University have discovered several new that could allow earlier and more definitive detection of cystic fibrosis. All it may take in the future a simple blood test in newborn babies. This article from McMaster University includes a short video with Philip Britz-McKibbin, lead author of the study and a professor in McMaster’s Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology. Read the full paper in the Journal of Proteome Research.
Source: McMaster University

Looking back at 2018’s innovations in agricultural biotechnology

One last list and look back at 2018. Val Giddings allowed the story about a shortcut for photosynthesis to sneak into this list on a technicality!
Source: Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

U.S. scientist says he tried to stop Chinese researcher from making first gene-edited babies

After 4 billion years of life, “there is a creature on the earth now that can affect its own evolution” is how one of the guests in this 27 minute audio podcast from CBC Radio’s The Current frames the discussion around the CRISPR-edited babies. Host Anna Maria Tremonti talked with Stanford University pediatrics professor Matthew Porteus, William Hurlbut, a neurobiology professor and researcher at Stanford University, and STAT News senior science reporter Sharon Begley.

Papers & Features Up arrow

The effects of the “war on science” frame on scientists’ credibility

Hardy, BW, et al. Science Communication (2019) https://doi.org/10.1177/1075547018822081

A randomized experiment of 1,024 U.S. adults was conducted to examine the effect of the war on science frame on perceptions of scientists’ credibility.

Embracing environmental genomics and machine learning for routine biomonitoring

Cordier, T, et al. Trends in Microbiology (2018) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tim.2018.10.012

Environmental genomics targeting microbial communities offers an accurate and cost-effective alternative to conventional biomonitoring based on large-size morphologically identified bioindicators.
Machine learning algorithms are the most promising approach to establish a new routine biomonitoring framework because they allow bypassing the current biological and technical limits.
Microbial metabarcoding combined with machine-learning approaches will allow scaling-up both spatial and temporal resolution for larger and more ambitious biomonitoring programs.

Metabolic signatures of Cystic Fibrosis identified in dried blood spots for newborn screening without carrier identification

DiBattista, A., etc al. Journal of Proteome Research (2018) DOI: 10.1021/acs.jproteome.8b00351

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a complex multiorgan disorder that is among the most common fatal genetic diseases benefiting from therapeutic interventions early in life. Newborn screening (NBS) for presymptomatic detection of CF currently relies on a two-stage immunoreactive trypsinogen (IRT) and cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) mutation panel algorithm that is sensitive but not specific for identifying affected neonates with a low positive predictive value. For the first time, we report the discovery of a panel of CF-specific metabolites from a single 3.2 mm diameter dried blood spot (DBS) punch when using multisegment injection-capillary electrophoresis-mass spectrometry (MS) as a high-throughput platform for nontargeted metabolite profiling from volume-restricted/biobanked specimens with quality control. 

Events Up arrow

Visit Genome Alberta's extensive Events Calendar on our website at GenomeAlberta.ca. Connect With Us to sign up for our newsletters and see the Calendar of Events.

2019 AAAS Annual Meeting

Science transcending boundaries: The 2019 AAAS annual meeting theme explores ways science is bringing together people, ideas, and solutions from across real and artificial borders, disciplines, sectors, ideologies, and traditions.

When: February 11-14, 2019
Where: Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, DC

For registration and information, visit the AAAS Annual Meeting website.

2nd Annual Canada SynBio conference

The 2nd Annual Canada SynBio conference is focused on accelerating the growth and success of Canada’s Engineering Biology community. Genome Alberta is pleased to be one of the event partners.

  • Learn about emerging developments, opportunities and plans.
  • Connect and network with leading investors, policymakers, scientists, and entrepreneurs from around the world.
  • Share ideas around issues of importance to the engineering biology community.

 Keynote speaker: George Church, Ph.D., Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Director of PersonalGenomes.org

Pitch competition: Startup pitch competition for $35k in prizes to be awarded.

When: March 6 & 7, 2019
Where: MaRS Discovery District, Toronto, ON

More information, registration and accommodations are available online. Special early pricing available before February 1, 2019

#BCTECHSummit: The Reality Revolution

The world is changing at an unprecedented rate, with new realities introduced every day. How will we use emerging technologies - from AI to Robotics, Quantum to Clean-tech, Blockchain to AR/VR – to solve some of the biggest challenges facing BC and the world today?

The BC Tech Summit takes B.C.’s innovation economy and elevates it to a global scale by bringing together business leaders and technology experts from B.C. and around the world to exchange ideas, insights and opportunities.

Speakers are thought-leaders that represent world-class brands in every industry. This is an opportunity to access their knowledge, experience and influence.

When: March 11-13, 2019
Where: Vancouver Convention Centre (West), Vancouver BC

For more information, including speakers and registration, visit the conference website.

Genomics for Journalists

Genomics for Journalists is a free, two-and-a-half-day workshop for working reporters that will cover the basic science of genomics and explore advances in the field that are changing the way diseases are diagnosed and treated, novel crop varieties are developed, forensic evidence is interpreted, and new materials and fuels are being produced. This is an all-expenses-paid, multi-day workshops designed to arm journalists—including those without deep backgrounds in science—with the knowledge and context they need to cover newsworthy science, health, and environment issues with confidence.

Genomics for Journalists is being offered jointly by SciLine and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The course is funded entirely by SciLine’s philanthropic grants, which will cover the full cost of round-trip travel, as well as accommodations, meals, and programming for all selected participants.

In keeping with SciLine’s focus on U.S. journalism, Genomics for Journalists is primarily for reporters based in the United States. Canadian journalists who write for publications with a significant U.S. audience may apply as well, and will be considered on a space-available basis.

When: March 24 - 26, 2019, but applications must be received by February 1, 2019
When: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

More information and application details are available online.

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