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February 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 Genome Canada funding competition for Genomics in Society Interdisciplinary Research

The Genomics in Society Interdisciplinary Research Teams (GiSIRT) program aims to bring researchers from different disciplines together to investigate factors affecting the advancement, adoption, evaluation and governance of genomics research and address issues at the intersection of genomics and society.

This Request for Applications supports proposals under the following three streams with the goal of funding at least one team in each stream:
  • Stream 1: proposals mainly impacting the human health sector
  • Stream 2: proposals mainly impacting the agriculture/agri-food and/or aquaculture/fisheries sectors
  • Stream 3: proposals mainly impacting the natural resource (forestry, energy, mining) and/or environment sectors
More information and links to forms and guidelines are available under the Funding tab on our website.

Funding competition results

Earlier this month Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport (pictured at the Guelph event) was at the University of Guelph to announce the results of three Genome Canada competitions in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Disruptive Innovation in Genomics, and Round 10 of the Genomic Applications Partnership Program.

Genome Alberta was awarded one project in the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology competition.

You can read the media release with additional details and links on the Genome Canada website.

Consultation on the new Canadian Research and Development Classification now open

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Statistics Canada are collaborating on the development of the common research classification system. The goal is to help Canada provide consistent, coherent and relevant statistical information about its contribution in specific R&D fields and in overall research and science.

To ensure the proposed CRDC reflects the Canadian research landscape and meets the needs of both the research community and Canadians, individuals and groups are invited to provide feedback. The online consultation will close on March 22, 2019.

Spotlight falls on 23andMe

Not exactly a trending story, but 23andMe seemed to hit the headlines over the last few weeks:

Why you should be careful about 23andMe’s health test

The direct-to-consumer genetic testing company 23andMe recently received FDA approval to report on two mutations that have been linked to colorectal cancer. Approved does not necessarily mean useful, and as always it is a case of buyer beware with the hope that those buyers actually take the time to understand what the results mean.
Source: New York Times

NY Times, Why are you so worried about 23andMe's genetic tests?

The NY Times story left at least one writer wondering what the fuss was all about. Steven Salzberg is the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science, and Biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University. While he agreed that the usefulness of genetic tests is often oversold, he does not seem to be convinced that 23andMe is hiding anything in its testing kits.
Source: Forbes Magazine

The limits of ancestry DNA tests, explained

Poor 23andMe. When you become the face of consumer DNA testing, you are also going to be the headline topic on a regular basis: “23andMe and other consumer genetics companies promise to reveal your family’s past. But what are they actually finding?” The article does a pretty good job of breaking down the process from the big spit to understanding the results for the 26 million or so people who take an ancestry test.
Source: Vox

Hundreds rally to preserve right not to vaccinate children amid measles outbreak

Washington State is being hit be a measles outbreak which the Washington Post said has the potential to “take off like a wildfire”. Not willing to let such warnings get in the way, many people in the state have dug in their heels to oppose a law that would stop the practice of refusing the measles vaccine for philosophical reasons. Meanwhile, some unvaccinated teens are trying to get shots on their own.
Source: CBS News (includes a 2 minute video)

A Beyonce endorsement of GMOs would probably help farmers a lot more than science

You know it’s true don’t you.
Source: Ottawa Citizen

Unsung heroines: Six women denied scientific glory

Female scientists have been part of or led breakthroughs in physics, Downs syndrome, chemistry, and astronomy, but never received credits for their role. There have been many more areas of achievement of course but, New Scientist plucked six stories to highlight as part of its coverage of International Day of Women and Girls in Science
Source: New Scientist

The NHS should run a mile from the genome sequencing goldrush

David King is Director of Human Genetics Alert, though judging by the organization’s website he could be the only person managing the group. He did however get a major op-ed opportunity in The Guardian, and as he is not alone in views, it is worth looking at what he had to say.
Source: The Guardian

For innovation, open science means open for business

GE3LS researcher Richard Gold says that an open science partnership between the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and the University of Toronto’s Structural Genomics Consortium is a successful collaboration that led to a recent investment by an American biotech company. Celgene has put $40 million down - and potentially as much as $1 billion - on an early stage blood cancer treatment developed by the publicly funded OICR. Gold is a senior fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation and he thinks the deal is a model for made-in-Canada innovation.
Source: CIGI
Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

Gene editing: how agritech is fighting to shape the food we eat

Tropic Biosciences is trying to save bananas, Mars wants to preserve our cocoa, Calyxt is aiming to improve soyabeans, and scientists tucked away in labs are finding ways to create non-allergenic peanuts or low-gluten wheat. How successful they will be is not so much about the science as it is about regulation because these lofty goals rely on gene editing to get the job done.
Source: Financial Times

University of California to be granted pioneering CRISPR patent

After 6 years of legal wrangling - and legal fees – and after having lost once to MIT, the University of California will soon be granted the CRISPR patent. It will cover “systems and methods for using single molecule guide RNAs that, when combined with the Cas9 protein, create more efficient and effective ways for scientists to target and edit genes”. That’s one battle down and likely still a few more to come.
Source: Reuters

Papers & Features Up arrow

A decision tool to help researchers make decisions about including systematic reviews in overviews of reviews of healthcare interventions

Wright CF et al. Wellcome Open Research (2019) doi.org/10.12688/wellcomeopenres.15090.1

The U.K.based authors of the Open Letter propose “that consent should not be required for widespread, open sharing of individual pseudonymised genetic variants linked with high-level phenotypes, and that sharing such data should become standard practice in genomic medicine”.
Source: Wellcome Open Research

Ominous reversal of health gains in the United States: Time to rethink research priorities?

Narayan KV, et al. Annals of Internal Medicine [Epub ahead of print ] doi: 10.7326/M18-3653

Since 2015 the average life expectancy in the United States has been declining. The decrease is happening despite the country spending 2.5 times the average health expenditure of OECD countries, and an annual medical and health research bill of nearly $171.6 billion. The authors of the paper say the U.S. needs to change the way it investigates health and should consider a more integrated approach to research.
Source: Annals of Internal Medicine (you will need full access)

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.

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

Alberta Epigenetics Network Veterinary Symposium

The Alberta Epigenetics Symposium is jointly organized by the Veterinary Medical Sciences graduate program, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary, and Alberta Epigenetics Network.

This event will be an opportunity to better understand epigenetics research and graduate student engagement in these activities. Please note that the AEN has provided 5 training grants in 2018 to enhance the learning experience of our VMS graduate students. The recipients of these grants and VMS internship awardees will present their internship experience to our UCVM community.

When: Fri, 8 March 2019, 7am-4pm
Where: HRIC Atrium - University of Calgary

Registration is free.

Learn more and register online.

14th Annual Genomics of Energy & Environment

The DOE Joint Genome Institute Annual Genomics of Energy & Environment User Meeting provides current and prospective users of JGI resources an opportunity to learn about the full spectrum of the JGI’s capabilities as well as to hear from a diverse selection of researchers who are applying the latest omics strategies to advance innovative science.

The User Meeting is a productive forum for developing large-scale interdisciplinary initiatives, establishing collaborative partnerships and exploring new career opportunities. The JGI Annual Meeting will be preceded by a series of workshops and the “NeLLi 2019 Symposium: From New Lineages of Life to New Functions.”

When: April 2-5, 2019
Where: Hilton Union Square, San Francisco, CA


Inventure$ 2019 is a network full of big ideas. This “unconference” for creative minds connects entrepreneurs and start-ups with venture capitalists, angel investors, service providers, and thought leaders to discover and share the latest in innovation.

Featuring keynote speakers include well known animal scientist and autism self-advocate Temple Grandin and Michele Romanow, engineer, entrepreneur, and one of the ‘Dragons’ on CBC TV’s program Dragons Den.

Genome Alberta will once again be on hand with a special evening event. As you can see in the picture (right), it is a must-attend event so stand by for details!

When: June 5 - 7, 2019
Where: Calgary Telus Convention Centre, Calgary

Registration and details available at the Inventure$ site. Early Bird registration discount is February 25th.

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