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April 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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Giving Day 2019

One of our funded researchers Ian Lewis, got his family together to help promote Giving Day to support the Faculty of Science at the University of Calgary.
We think that new stars have been born.

UCalgary-based team takes big step toward producing safer, less expensive pain-killing medications

Peter Facchini says yeast-based production will give Canada and the rest of the world a more stable and scalable supply of opiates. Genome Alberta funded parts of Facchini’s earlier work in the field, and we are pleased to see it yield significant results including a Calgary-based biotech company which is set to commercialize some of the technology. If you are in Calgary on April 24th and want to hear more about that commercialization journey, check out our event calendar below.
Source: UToday, Nature, and a 4:00 minute interview from Global News.

Nigeria’s approval of GMO crops boosts Africa’s hopes for the technology

Thanks to the largest GDP on the continent, Nigeria’s economic decisions tend to have an influence around Africa. Many experts are predicting that the approval of genetically modified cowpea and cotton may result in other African countries looking more favourably on genetically modified crop technology. Maybe even send a message to the rest of the world.
Source: Cornell Alliance for Science

I tried to track down my coworkers from their DNA — Just like cops did for The Golden State Killer

This do-it-yourself experiment from BuzzFeed News – the more credible arm of BuzzFeed media – is an interesting exploration of what you can find by digging through readily available information. The reporter had some success in the exercise and was introduced to the societal questions that were raised in the process.
Source: BuzzFeed News

OPINION: DNA offers insights to help identify personal cannabis use

The sixties are well behind us and with it all the counter-culture knowledge and jokes that went with marijuana use. Cannabis is now legal in Canada and we have to put science behind some of the earlier underground wisdom on the varied reactions we have when using cannabis. Many of the differences can be found in our DNA, and knowing your own predisposition may well help you choose which strain to buy and how to consume it.
Source: Ottawa Citizen

Questions with GE3LS Researchers

March was GE3LS month and Genome BC asked researchers 5 questions about their work:

Five questions not enough? How about 8 from Genome Canada?

WATCH: AquAdvantage salmon needs you

With no prior link to AquaBounty Technologies, Nick Saik and his Alberta-based Know Ideas Media has produced a video that sets out to convince you to be an ambassador for science in general, and perhaps for the AquAdvantage salmon. Enthusiastic to say the least, and a good example of advocacy in action.
Source: Know Ideas /YouTube

GMO ‘overregulation’ hinders tech development, market diversity, and food security, says researcher

Current GMO regulation is crippling advancements in sustainable development and food security, according to agricultural economist Matin Qaim. Nevertheless, he is optimistic that in the long term, EU law can be adjusted to be ‘more science-based’.
Source: Food Navigator

LISTEN: Prenatal testing can ease minds or heighten anxieties

A decade ago only a few diseases could be diagnosed trough pre-natal testing. Now a few hundred can be part of testing panels. More does not always mean better, but in conjunction with a medical history and genetic counselling, many parents are opting for early testing.
Source: NPR

Years after an experimental stem cell therapy blinded patients, the FDA is still trying to stop it

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has promised to increase its oversight of providers of experimental stem cell treatments. That would be considered good news if you ignore the fact that the problems were reported at least 4 years ago. In 2017 the agency put cracking down on the clinics at the “top of the list”, but that crackdown is turning out to be a slow-moving hammer.
Source: Washington Post

This biotech startup is making a new alternative to leather, no animals needed

We have plant protein meat substitutes and there are start-ups working on lab-grown meat so why not apply synthetic biology technology to leather? Modern Meadows engineers yeast cells to build proteins which can be used to produce the collagens that will eventually be finished into a leather-like product. A brief text story and 4-minute video that takes you through the process.
Source: Inc.

U of S researchers play role in mapping durum wheat genome

It took nearly 13 years to get the whole project done but the full genome of durum wheat has been completed and Canadian researchers were part of the international effort. Durum wheat has been grown around the world for nearly 2,000 years and has become a significant crop here in Canada where it is grown for pasta production. With the sequence information breeders will be able to grow better performing wheat varieties. The Global News story features an interview with Genome Canada funded researcher Andy Sharpe.
Source: Global News and Nature Genetics

Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

New DNA 'shredder' technique goes beyond CRISPR's scissors

While the science is important and the technology continues to have significant potential, a new CRISPR tool that is being likened to a DNA “shredder” instead of genetic “scissors” is not exactly a marketing term to splash across the front page. Cas3 has even been called a “DNA shredder with a motor”. Your Digest editor is not sure such a description is going to enlighten the public let alone make them feel comfortable about the latest CRISPR advance. After all, the way we communicate science is just as important as the science itself.
Source: Science Daily and Molecular Cell

In STAT Madness, CRISPR tools to treat brain disorders capture Editors’ Pick

In its own version of basketball’s March Madness, STAT went to work on picking the best innovations in biomedicine. From a field of 160 entries, 64 were bracketed based on the originality, scientific rigor, and potential impact of the work. After six rounds and 313,870 votes from readers, the University of Michigan’s tinnitus research beat the University of Utah and its use of evolutionary analyses to identify disease-related genes. And then there was the Editors’ choice.
Source: STAT

Papers & Features Up arrow

Promises and perils of gene drives: Navigating the communication of complex, post-normal science

Brossard, D, et al. PNAS (2019) doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1805874115

Gene editing technology is complex. Trying to explain the technology, its uses, and its potential may turn out to be even more complex than the science itself. This articles looks at the challenges, how to lead the engagement process, and how to ensure effective communication.
Source: PNAS

Frameworks and models for disseminating curated research outcomes to the public

Clifton-Ross, J., et al. SAGE Open (2019) doi.org/10.1177/2158244019840112

This paper says that sharing and reformatting research outcomes into a variety of mediums (i.e., videos, data visualizations, etc) is important “...increasing civic literacy around critical issues, visible and accessible to the broader public.” It also raises the question of whether research funds should go towards what could be viewed as marketing activities.
Source: Sage Open Journals

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.

From biological research to multi-million dollar biotech company: A perspective on the research-based entrepreneurial journey

The Life Sciences Innovation Hub invites you to this community event to hear from the team behind University of Calgary spin out Epimeron Inc. The company has raised over $20M, expanded its team, and is set to move forward as a leading producer of pharmaceutical opiates and other high-value plant metabolites.

Join Dr. Peter Facchini, professor of plant biochemistry in the Faculty of Science at the University of Calgary, to learn about the opportunities and challenges of growing a research-intensive company with academic roots. Dr. Joseph Tucker, CEO of Epimeron Inc., will discuss how they navigated the spin out process, and generated significant funding for their company.

When: Wednesday, April 24, 2019, 5 p.m. - 7 p.m. Speaking program at 5 p.m.; followed by networking at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Life Sciences Innovation Hub, 3655 36 Street NW, Calgary

Alberta Epigenetics Network Annual Summit

The Alberta Epigenetics Network is organizing its final Annual Summit meeting. The event is free to attend for clinicians, researchers, staff and trainees from Universities of Calgary, Alberta and Lethbridge, AHS and SCNs.

The program features over 30 High-impact lectures from Alberta researchers, out-of-province OMICS experts and world leaders and trainees in areas of Epigenomics, Genomics, Metabolomics, Transcriptomics, Artificial Intelligence, Bioinformatics and Social legal implications of OMICS.

AEN is organizing a Nanopore sequencing workshop in conjunction with the Summit to help Alberta researchers develop expertise in this emerging area of third-gen sequencing.

When: May 3-5, 2019
Where: Coast Hotel & Conference Center, Canmore

Register online

30th Annual Canadian Bioethics Society Conference

This year’s conference takes disruptive action as valuable action, and the “disrupters” as crucial voices for change. When beliefs about health and our structures in health care are challenged, ethical obligations come most sharply into relief. Patients whose preferences and behaviours are challenging or inconvenient are often labelled as “difficult” or “non-compliant”. Yet these individuals hold a mirror up to the system that may highlight its shortcomings and flaws. This can force positive reflection at all levels about the nature and goals of health care and what accommodations and limits are reasonable in healthcare delivery.

In addition to invited keynote speakers, moderated concurrent sessions, and poster presentations, the conference will feature: Pecha Kucha style presentations, participatory Ethics Labs, cultural performances and facilitated plenary discussions.

When: May 22-24, 2019
Where: Rimrock Resort Hotel, Banff, Alberta

Additional information, including registration, is available at the conference website

2019 Annual Science Writers Conference

The theme of this year’s conference is Heart & Head, with explorations into Indigenous knowledge, the health of our waters and the North.

When: May 23-25, 2019
Where: Manitoba Theatre for Young People, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Registration and information is available online.

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