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March 2, 2017


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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LISTEN: New UBC research suggests stronger connection between addiction and genetics

As Canada's national opioid crisis continues, scientists at the University of British Columbia are trying to figure out why some people may be more susceptible to addiction at a genetic level.
Source: CBC Radio – The Current

The invisible clean-up crew: Engineering microbial cultures to destroy pollutants

Digging up the soil to get rid of contamination is costly and not always effective, especially after the contaminates have made it into the groundwater. Who you going to call? Try the bacterial team of contamination busters being developed by Elizabeth Edwards who is harnessing genomics, microbiology and engineering to clean up contaminated industrial sites.
Source: University of Toronto

Deciding what beef research and innovation to fund

Pooling resources and co-ordinating funding decisions can increase the odds that more good beef research projects will go ahead says Reynold Bergen. He is the science director of the Beef Cattle Research Council.
Source: Canadian Cattlemen

New gene sequencing software could aid in early detection, treatment of cancer

A research team from the United States and Canada has developed and successfully tested new computational software that determines whether a human DNA sample includes an epigenetic add-on linked to cancer and other adverse health conditions.
Source: Bioscience Technology

The Turkish paradox: Can scientists thrive in a state of emergency?

Just a some scientist in Turkey were making headway in science and in promoting Turkish science they took a hit when a coup hit the country. The coup was quickly put down, but so was the rebirth ofTurkish science. Optimism has been replaced by uncertainty and progress replaced by unrest.
Source: Nature

The next pseudoscience health craze is all about genetics

We are able to collect a wide range of genetic information but now what? Some companies are leaping into the space and offering everything from diet advice to what wines you are most likely to enjoy. Yes, what wine pairs best with your DNA. It may well be pseudoscience, but it is finding customers and making money.
Source: Gizmodo

Drought-tolerant genetically engineered maize poised to help African farmers adapt to changing climate

As temperatures increase so does the potential for crops to be ruined by drought. Tanzania has brer been running field trials for a a genetically modified variety of maize and will be harvested soon says Mark Lynas.
Source: Genetic Literacy Project

The body does not absorb genetic material from our food

Opponents of genetically modified food often raise concerns that the microRNA in our food can change the body's functions. A recent study done from the Technical University of Denmark says there is no evidence that happens.
Source: National Food Institute

Researchers detail genetic mechanisms that govern growth and drought response in plants

New research is outlining how the genetic pathways that govern growth and stress response in plants sometimes clash. The research could lead to better performing crop varieties.
Source: Science Daily

'Doomsday’ seed vault nears 1M samples: What you need to know about the Arctic bunker

Last week the seed vault in Svalbard, Norway received a big deposit when 50,000 seed samples from around the world were added bringing the collection up to nearly a million sample. The vault, which is managed and operated by the Norwegian government, Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Nordic Gene Bank, received the latest seeds from a dozen different countries “despite a backdrop of geopolitical volatility.” And in case you were wondering, withdrawals from the bank are possible.
Source: NewsCaf

Q&A with Daniel Sarewitz: What is the role of science in a post-normal world?

The notion that we would all understand things better and we would all be more rational if individual scientists did a better job of explaining things doesn’t work anymore, and it isn’t simply s case of whether that information deficit model is true or not. In the realm of policy and global decision making there are many factors at play and one size of science does not fit all. Daniel Sarewitz is co-Director, Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, and a Professor of Science and Society, School for the Future of Innovation in Society.
Source: The Medium

Calgary man first in the world to receive experimental gene therapy

In an experimental treatment for Fabry Disease, researchers manipulated stem cells taken from Darren Bidulka then transplanted them back into his body. He will be monitored for the next 5 years so see how successful the treatment proves to be. The work was led by Dr. Aneal Khan, medical geneticist for Alberta Health Services. Dr Khan’s approach first made the news back in 2013 when he was trying the procedure on mice.
Source: Metro News and CTV (video)

Science and society: 1867 vs 2017

As Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, spend a moment and think about how science has progressed in our country. Science in Society co-editors Robert Gooding-Townsend and Katrina Wong offer these thoughts.
Source: Science Borealis

Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

Broad Institute scientist prevails in epic patent fight over CRISPR

We may well see appeals, but for the moment the patent battle over CRISPR has been laid to rest. The patents awarded to Feng Zhang at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard stand, but the loser in the case will press on. Jennifer Doudna says she will make a patent application based on her earlier work.
Source: Washington Post

Gene editing for disease – not designer babies

No question that buzz in science over the last couple of weeks has been a report on gene editing released by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences and Medicine. There was a public briefing by the National Academies of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine and the video of the event is available online.

The report outlines recommendations for global researchers involved in clinical trials using genome-editing technology. The CBC says that the report is a softening of the guidelines for DNA editing of human eggs, sperm, embryos, and quotes Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society as saying it "constitutes a green light for proceeding with efforts to modify the human germline". The Genetic Literacy Project did not quite see it as a green light in this article and instead view it more as advice to “proceed with caution”. Not surprisingly, the NY Times and The Guardian got out some of the first mainstream media stories and brought a wide range of opinions to bear on the debate. The next day Bioethics.net had a blog opinion piece which notes that the report put the U.S. on an equal footing in the “Research Arms-Race”

Much like GMOs, the subject of gene editing is going to bring out some highly polarized views, many of which carry a lot of popular sway like this piece which has made the rounds on sites such as Infowars and Charisma News and which sees the technology as the tip of a humanity altering iceberg. A more balanced view appeared on other sites which pointed out that yes, there are ethical concerns but gene editing should not be totally rejected.

The question of how far we should in using gene editing technology on humans is not an easy one to answer and this latest report is likely only one of many more to come from all over the world. But what was it like to be involved in compiling the report and recommendations? MIT News takes you behind the scene with this feature.

Papers & Features Up arrow

CRISPR patent ruling leaves license holders scrambling

Cohen J, Science (2017) doi: 10.1126/science.355.6327.786

Any way about it, companies that have licensed the technology are scrambling to figure out whom they have to pay fees to, and the uncertainly likely will continue unless UC and Broad can agree on a “cross-licensing” settlement that, in effect, shares the patent revenues. Patent experts continue to criticize the institutions for not striking a deal, and they also anticipate that there’s more litigation to come.
Source: Science

Can the UK’s birth registration system better serve the interests of those born following collaborative assisted reproduction?

Crawshaw MA, Blyth ED, Feast J Reproductive Biomedicine and Society Online (2016) doi: 10.1016/j.rbms.2016.12.004

Current birth registration systems fail to serve adequately the interests of those born as a result of gamete and embryo donation and surrogacy. In the UK, changes to the birth registration system have been piecemeal, reactive and situation-specific and no information is recorded about gamete donors. Birth registration has thereby become a statement of legal parentage and citizenship only, without debate as to whether it should serve any wider functions.
Source: Journal of Reproductive Biomedicine and Society Online

Defining personal utility in genomics: A Delphi study

Kohler J, et al. Clinical Genetics (2017) doi:10.1111/cge.12998

Individual genome sequencing results are valued by patients in ways distinct from clinical utility. Such outcomes have been described as components of “personal utility,” a concept that broadly encompasses patient-endorsed benefits, that is operationally defined as non-clinical outcomes. No empirical delineation of these outcomes has been reported. To address this gap, we administered a Delphi survey to adult participants in a NIH clinical exome study to extract the most highly endorsed outcomes constituting personal utility.
Source: Clinical Genetics

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.

CRISPR: Opportunities and Challenges Webinar

CRISPR is a genome-editing technique that provides a simple yet versatile method for making targeted changes to the genome of living cells.

In this CRISPR webinar, experts and researchers will review CRISPR's opportunities and challenges with a view to touching upon challenges such as reducing off-target effects, as well as new advances set to overcome some of the current limitations.

This is a an opportunity to not only learn from experts about how this disruptive technology is changing gene editing but also to ask your personal questions about CRISPR.

When: Tuesday March 14, 2017, 1:00 AM – 12:00 PM CDT
Where: Online

Register on Eventbrite

ACMG Annual Clinical Genetics Meeting

The program will provide genetics professionals with the opportunity to learn how genetics and genomics are being integrated into medical or clinical practice. The Committee has developed a scientific program that will present the latest developments and research in clinical genetics and genomics. This annual meeting brings together medical and clinical geneticists, laboratory personnel, genetic researchers and educators as well as medical practitioners who provide services for patients with, or at risk for, genetically influenced health problems.

When: March 21 - 25, 2017
Where: Phoenix Convention Centre, Phoenix, Arizona

For more information and registration details, click here.

Alberta Epigenetics Network Summit 2017

AEN Annual Summit provides researchers and industry partners a platform to share current knowledge & trends, expertise, resources, and challenges in the area of Epigenetics with colleagues from Alberta & across the country.   

The summit participants will share knowledge in areas of:
  • Biomedical Research: Topics include Precision/Personalized medicine, Cancer biology, Inflammatory diseases, Infectious diseases, Cardiovascular and Neuro biology, Molecular genetics, Developmental Biology and Aging – both Basic and Clinical (this would also include clinical trials data presentation)
  • Agriculture and Environment: Topics include Forestry, Plants, Livestock, Environmental toxicology
  • Bioinformatics and Technology Commercialization: Topics include Computational biology, Diagnostic assays, Biomarkers, Knowledge Translation including intellectual property protection and commercialization of Genomics/Epigenetics technologies.
An added feature will be the ‘Young Investigators Session' with oral & poster presentations in the areas listed above. AEN Summit is open to all researchers, irrespective of their field of study, from human and animal health, plants, livestock and forestry.  Abstracts Deadline: Monday, February 27, 2017

When: March 27-28, 2017
Where: The Coast Lethbridge Hotel, Lethbridge, Alberta

For more information and registration details 

Genome Alberta is pleased to be a major supporter of the Alberta Epigenetic Network and we encourage you to visit the AEN for more information and registration details.

Cracking the Genetic Code for Better Health

Advances in genomics – the study of genes and their functions – are allowing researchers and physicians to customize health care and treat individuals according to their genetic makeup.
Dr. Francois Bernier, an expert in rare diseases, will explain how genetic sequencing, can give physicians more tools to understand what their patients need and to provide more personalized and precise care.

When: April 4, 2017, 12:00 - 1:00 PM MST
Where: Online

Register here for the webinar

Precision Medicine in Child Health

The 17th Annual Precision Medicine Research Symposium will feature two major outside speakers and several speakers from the University of Calgary.

In addition there will be Poster Sessions and a Reception. Check out the Poster (.pdf file) for more detail.

When: April 19, 2017
Where: Alberta Children's Hospital Calgary, Alberta

Register here

Genomics and Society - Expanding the ELSI Universe

The 4th ELSI Congress is the latest in a series of major conferences for researchers and others interested in the ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) of genomic research.
Topics for keynote and plenary sessions include:
  • The Evolution and Future of ELSI Research
  • Synthesizing the Human Genome
  • Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of the Precision Medicine Initiative
  • Genome Sequencing Enters the Clinic
  • Genes, Ancestry and Identity
When: June 5 - 7, 2017
Where: Farmington, Connecticut

More information and registration link

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