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March 1, 2018


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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Basic science get a major boost in research-friendly budget

The 2018 Federal Budget was tabled on Tuesday and we’ll start with the basics. The main budget document is on the Government of Canada website and if you focus on pages 81-100 you’ll find the details on science, research, and development funding. In his speech Finance Minister Morneau said “Budget 2018 represents the single largest investment in investigator-led fundamental research in Canadian history” so you’ll need a cheat sheet version:
  • Overall $3.8 billion allocated to research and development, with $500 million going to basic research by 2023.
  • Significant new and ongoing funding for the granting councils , the Canada Foundation for Innovation/CFI ($763m), and for indirect costs ($232m). These investments were in line with the recommendations of the Naylor report.
  • More than $500 million over 5 years set aside for a national Digital Research Infrastructure Strategy which will deliver advanced computing and big data resources for research. This initiative is still in development but it is interesting to note that the example used so illustrate this challenge is the use advanced genomics tools to analyse sequencing data for cancer and dementia.
  • New funding for the Canada Research Chairs program to support early-career researchers and women nominees.
  • Funding for government science departments, including resources to renew facilities in Agcan, NRCan, Fisheries and Oceans etc.
  • Renewal funding of $9m for the Council of Canadian Academies.
The Globe & Mail has a quick graphic snapshot of the budget and is also where we’ll start pointing you at the analysis with this story from Ivan Semeniuk . iPolitics called it a “massive commitment” and this story includes a short video pointing out some of the science highlights. The Toronto Star keyed a little more on budget measures being taken to ““modernize” ways to support researchers and follows the overall media view that science was a big winner. Maclean’s looked at the overall budget theme around “innovation” and while noting the money being spent, wondered equally about the strategy that goes with that spending. Like most secondary institutions Universities Canada issued a press release which made sure not to make any missteps and praised the budget’s new investments. Specialty publications will give you more focused perspective like this piece in Western Producer.

Outside Canada, it seems that the budget is also turning heads with The Times Higher Education and Nature both excited to see how science was treated. The Times headline said the budget brings a multibillion-dollar boost for research and Nature said Canadian science wins billions in new budget.

There is no shortage of analysis and comment in all corners of the internet but we’ll leave you with the statement from Genome Canada on Federal Budget 2018.

How the microbiome challenges our concept of self

Can microbiome research challenge the three biological explanations of the individual self - the immune system, the brain, and the genome? If we are not individual, discrete entities but instead are the outcome of ever-changing interactions with microorganisms, there may be a bigger conversation to be had.
Source: PLOS Biology

Using DNA to create a person’s likeness

Calgary’s Police Service released a picture of a woman which was created using only her DNA. It stems from the case of a deceased newborn found in a parking lot in Calgary on Christmas Eve. A U.S. company crafted a picture of the child's mother using DNA evidence. A Calgary researcher says we don't know enough about genetic variants to make a useful determination of facial features or shape. Or we don’t have enough information yet but researchers are getting closer.
Source: Futurity

The top 5 Canadian CEOs who elevate their companies

Biotechnology Focus says these are “CEOs who have delivered in the past and are with companies where they have a chance of delivering in the future. They aren’t necessarily leading the biggest companies, but rather, they qualify because they are the best leaders.”
Source: Biotechnology Focus

World first: Genetic analysis reveals great white shark numbers off Australia

Scientists in New Zealand and Australia have been using genetic analysis to learn more about white shark populations. The results of this project are the first estimates of white shark adult population size, trend and survival rates for the Australasian region. Estimated numbers of adults and total population size are small, however, estimates of survival probability are high for adults and fairly high for juveniles.
Source: The Daily Catch and Scientific Reports

Medical researchers look to enlist patients as partners

Participants in health studies often find that once they have contributed information that is the end of the process and they never learn about the broader results. The Metastatic Prostate Cancer Project, launched by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston is trying to change that.
Source: Wall Street Journal

New knowledge about the human genome paves the way for new drugs

Researchers have mapped two large unexplored parts of the human genome which may point to the development of many new drugs.
Source: University of Copenhagen

How companies scour our digital lives for clues to our health

Your digital footprint could hold clues to your physical and mental health or so claims the theory behind an emerging field, digital phenotyping, that is trying to assess people’s well-being based on their interactions with digital devices.
Source: New York Times

WATCH: Saving Science with Sciencepiration

We don’t usually include spoofs and comedy in our newsletter but every once in a while something comes along worth sharing. From the Australian Tonightly Show with Tom Ballard, “people are paying less attention to scientists, and more attention to skeptics, celebrities, and wellness bloggers”.
Source: Tonightly Show

Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

A biohacker regrets publicly injecting himself with CRISPR

Late last year we brought you the story of Josiah Zayner who said that “this is the first time in history that we are no longer slaves to our genetics”. To prove his point he used CRISPR to biohack the muscle cells in his forearm. Anyone can go online and buy CRISPR kits from his company, The Odin. After seeing a biotech CEO drop his pants at a biohacking conference Josiah is doing a little “soul searching”.
Source: The Atlantic

CRISPR could end sickle cell disease, but signing up black patients for clinical trials will be a hard sell

Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder that in the U.S. strikes mainly African-Americans. Gene editing technology holds promise for treating the disease, but a history of unethical experimentation and mistreatment of black patients could make recruiting CRISPR therapy volunteers a difficult task.
Source: STAT

LISTEN: Doctors In China lead race to treat cancer by editing genes

Only one CRISPR cancer study has been approved in the United States, and it's only just now starting to look for the first patient to treat. Meanwhile research in China is racing ahead with using CRISPR as a promising treatment for cancers of the lung, bladder, cervix and prostate.
Source: NPR

Papers & Features Up arrow

Population testing for high penetrance genes: Are we there yet?

Wentzensen, N et al., Journal of the National Cancer Institute, (2018) https://doi.org/10.1093/jnci/djx282

Putting genetic testing to use with high-risk groups has shown enough promise that extending tests into the general population is getting some attention. Which is more cost-effective – general testing or more focused testing?
Source: Journal of the National Cancer Institute

Parental preferences toward genomic sequencing for non-medically actionable conditions in children: a discrete-choice experiment

Lewis M., et al., Genetics in Medicine (2018) doi:10.1038/gim.2017.93

“Parents preferred to learn results about genetic disorders with more severe manifestations, even when this knowledge was associated with increased distress. These results may help clinicians support parental decision making by revealing which types of sequencing results parents are interested in learning.”
Source: Nature: Genetics in Medicine (you’ll need access for this one)

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.

DOE JGI Genomics of Energy & Environment Meeting

Any and all researchers and students pursuing frontier energy and environmental genomics research are welcome! Also, all current JGI Community Science Program (CSP) users, as well as investigators considering an application for future CSP calls.

Running parallel with the Meeting, the JGI will be hosting the first ever Viral EcoGenomics and Applications (VEGA) Symposium – Big data approaches to help characterize earth’s Virome. The goals of the one and a half day symposium are to bring together a “viral ecogenomics” community, i.e. experts of viral/phage genetics, structure, ecology, evolution, and (meta)genomics, to foster discussions centered on how to best capture and characterize uncultivated viruses, understand the role of viruses in natural ecosystems, and functionally explore viral genetic diversity.

When: March 13 - 16, 2018
Where: Hilton San Francisco in Union Square

For more information or to register, please visit the meeting website.

2018 Alberta Epigenetics Network Summit

Join the Alberta Epigenetics Network (AEN)  to share current knowledge & trends, expertise, resources, and challenges in the area of Epigenetics and OMICS:
  • Biomedical research
  • Bioinformatics and bomputational biology
  • Microbiome, agriculture, livestock, veterinary medicine and environment
  • Knowledge translation

When: March 25 - 27, 2018
Where: Lister Conference Centre, 11613-87 Avenue NW, Edmonton

To register, please click here.

To submit an abstract, please click for more information.

For more information on the summit, please contact Dr. Michael Hendzel (Professor University of Alberta) or Dr. Raja B. Singh (Director, AEN)

Impact of Science 2018

The AESIS Network brings together experts such as R&D evaluators, university managers, research councils, policy makers, funders, and other stakeholders of impact. The goal of this conference is sharing, evaluating and discussing best practices around the world on:
  • Policy strategies for societal impact
  • Creating (long-term) alliances between stakeholders
  • Regional, national and international instruments for evaluating and achieving impact
  • Current issues on i.e. public engagement, evidence-based policy, interdisciplinary approaches and harmonising definitions and assumptions.
When: June 14 - 15, 2018
Where: Fairmont Château Laurier, Ottawa, Ontario

For program & registration information, please visit the conference website.

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