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May 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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How tobacco farmer Henrietta Lacks became a medical superstar after her death

Henrietta Lacks lives on in labs, in books, in ethical debates, and now in a new movie. She died from cervical cancers 66 years ago but cells taken from her are still being cultured and used in research around the world. The cells were taken without her knowledge, let alone consent, which has sparked many ethical discussions and some compensation claims. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot was published in 2010, and the movie based on the book will be on HBO this week.
Source: Toronto Star

Scientists can now pull the DNA of ancient humans out of cave dirt

A “genetic aura” persists long after people and animals die and researchers have been able to take advantage of it to figure out who, or what, was in a Belgian cave 45,000 years ago. The techniques makes it possible to extract DNA without having to grind up any bone or fossil remains.
Source: The Atlantic

Goodbye Glybera! The world’s first gene therapy will be withdrawn

Glybera was first approved in October 2012 for hereditary lipoprotein lipase deficiency (LPLD), an ultra-rare genetic disorder. Partly because of the rare nature of the disease and partly because the drug was not approved in the U.S., it has proved to be a commercial failure for uniQuire, the company marketing the drug. While it was not a business success it was a proof of concept and that has helped with ongoing research efforts.
Source: LabBioTech

Lawsuit against stem cell clinic Stemgenex can move forward, judge rules

A clinic in California will have to go to court to defend claims that its stem cell treatments are 100% effective. The interesting part of the decision that allows the case to proceed is that it is not about the science or the technology. Rather it is about fraud and misrepresentation of customer’s satisfaction with the treatment. The scientific basis for the treatment could well come into the trial at some point but in the end it could all be decided on plain old truth in advertising arguments.
Source: LA TIMES

Agriculture’s biotechnology has a bright future

According to Robert Fraley, the future of agriculture is strong. Fraley is the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer with Monsanto and is often seen as the ‘father’ of agricultural biotechnology. As one of the people there when GMOs were first being developed, he says we are now a couple of generations past that early technology.
Source: Farm & Ranch Guide

The new Neanderthals

For years we have seen Neanderthals as “stooped over, hairy, primitive” and probably complete brutes. We even use the term Neanderthal as an insult to others. But we are slowly learning they are more complex than we once thought and may even have had an artistic streak. A new novel called The Last Neanderthal by Canadian Claire Cameron, brings one particular Neanderthal to life as you’ll see (and hear) in this story.
Source: Maclean’s

Study: Accomplished female scientists often overlooked

Female scientists are often overlooked by organizing committees for science conferences according to Robyn Klein from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The reason given by organizers is that there are not enough women with the qualifications to take a spot at the podium. Ms. Klein decided to put that to the test.
Source: PhysOrg

The value proposition for stem cell therapies

What we can achieve is not always what we can afford when it comes to medicine and health care. Years can be spent on research but if the final clinical therapy is too expensive, what then?
Source: Expression

Sweet success: Genetics to boost sugarcane production

Artificial growth regulators or chemical ripeners are used in sugarcane production to increase sucrose levels. What if genetic modification techniques could be used to produce more sucrose in the plants? The result could be increased productivity and economic benefits to sugarcane production. That’s what scientists in Brazil are trying to do.
Source: SciDevNet

Farm Babe: The ultimate resource guide to science in agriculture — Top 100 sites

Wonder where the public and media get information on science and agriculture? The Farm Babe is one popular blogger, and last week she pointed out 100 other sites where you will find science and agriculture side-by-side.
Source: AgDaily

Animal antibiotics conversation requires context

Is the sheer quantity of antibiotics used in agriculture confusing the issue of antibiotic use livestock? After all there are about 30 times more animals being raised for food production than there are people in the U.S., which makes agriculture look like a serious antibiotic culprit. This article suggests that context is everything.
Source: Animal Antibiotics

The value proposition for stem cell therapies

What we can achieve is not always what we can afford when it comes to medicine and health care. Years can be spent on research but if the final clinical therapy is too expensive, what then?
Source: Expression

Science minister mulls forcing universities to attract more female researchers

Canada’s Science Minister Kirsty Duncan has spoken about the need for diversity in science since she was first appointed to the position. She now thinks university aren’t putting enough effort into the gender part of the challenge and she is said to be considering forcing the issue when it comes to the Canada Research Chairs.
Source: Globe & Mail

You might want to also check this Calgary Herald story on the gender pay gap at the University of Calgary.

Scientists tested seafood at six D.C. restaurants. It didn’t always match the menu.

There was little evidence of outright fraud, but DNA tests on fish served in Washington DC restaurants turned up some interesting results. It was a small sampling and most dishes passed with flying colours while one third of the food served was not as advertised. You should also know that food fraud in general is a problem and Canadians are worried about whether they are getting what they actually pay for according to a survey earlier this year.
Source: Washington Post

Dreaming of other worlds? Company offers to launch customers' DNA into space

Canadian technology is helping people visit new worlds. Sort of.
Source: MetroNews

Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

From corn to cattle, gene editing is about to supercharge agriculture

The sweet corn you look forward to as part of a backyard BBQ is the result of decades of selective breeding and bears little resemblance to the first cultivated corn crops. Gene editing technology can supercharge that process and save a century’s worth of plant selection. It can also be applied to other crops and livestock but the “CRISPR Revolution” holds as many challenges as it does promises.
Source: Digital Trends

CRISPR.com was for sale, and you won’t guess who bought it

Inventing a nonsurgical way to zap away fat is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about the revolutionary genome-editing technique CRISPR, but maybe it should be.
A Boston dermatologist credited with developing the novel approach to fat loss is now the owner of a prized internet domain: crispr.com.
Source: STAT News

Using CRISPR to find treatments for aggressive pediatric brain cancer

In an exclusive interview with Bioscience Technology, Sredni said that after so many years in the field, she has “never felt so close” to finding a better treatment for atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumors (AT/RT) —and the powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 helped her get there.
AT/RT are very aggressive and unresponsive tumors that most frequently develop in very young children, under three months old. This type of tumor is universally lethal and survival rarely exceeds two years, Sredni said.
Source: Bioscience Technology

Papers & Features Up arrow

Towards a science policy in Alberta - Council of Canadian Academies

The Government of Alberta asked the Council of Canadian Academies to convene an expert workshop to identify key considerations for science policies relevant to “subnational jurisdictions” (aka provinces), and the report came out on April 19th. Overall the report is intended to be used by Canadian provinces and territories to help guide discussions and inform decision-making about science policies. Some familiar names such as Marc LePage, President and CEO of Genome Canada were part of the steering committee and the workshop participants came from government, academia, and industry. One of the promising headlines in the report emphasizes that explicit science policies are needed to support science, enhance government coordination and alignment, increase transparency, and to help leverage federal support.

Go to the Council of Canadian Academies for a summary of the key findings and to download the full report (pdf file).

The March for Science

Besides the ongoing discussions around Canada’s review of science, the April 22nd March for Science took over our media monitoring and social media feeds in the days leading up to the March and for days afterwards. It didn’t seem to matter if you were actually a scientist, anyone with some ideas weighed in on whether the March had value and whether politicizing science was a good idea. Does the March risk alienating the public if they see publicly funded scientists engaging in advocacy asks an Assistant Professor in Political Communication at George Mason University? The initial post for the March probably did not include any discussions about such issues and the Washington Post suggests that it started as a throwaway line on Reddit. Arguably though you could say the Donald Trump really got it going with proposed science funding cuts, disappearing data, and the claim that climate change is a hoax.

Support for the March was strong around the world, with events on every continent, and participants from all sectors of science - including a Time Lord. Here’s a map that will give you an idea of where the Marches spread to. The politicization of science continued to be an issue and the Calgary rally (image at left) echoed the sentiment. As soon as people decided to March however, politics was in play, and issues such as Brexit became part of the conversation. Some would argue that it is less of a March for Science and more of a March to be able to do science.

Now that the March is over will it whither away or is there enough momentum to keep it going in a symbolic way? The main website for the March suggests that “now we act” and there is a campaign to send support for science e-mails to Congress.

And finally, what is a protest March without signs? Here are a few of them, complete with dogs and kids who joined in.

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.

Genomics and Society: Expanding the ELSI Universe

This 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. With keynote speakers, plenary panels, workshops, and a wide range of paper, panel, and poster presentations, the Congress will provide an opportunity for scholars to reflect on current research and to envision future directions for ELSI research.

When: June 5-7, 2017
Where: Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine campus, UConn Health, Farmington, Connecticut

More information and registration available on the conference website.

Integrative Molecular Epidemiology Workshop: Bridging Cancer Biology and Precision Medicine

This workshop is designed to accelerate the training of the next generation of cancer researchers who must be well-skilled in the integration of biology and epidemiology in studies of etiology and outcome. In addition to molecular epidemiologists, we invite applications from geneticists, statisticians, bioinformaticians, molecular biologists, and others.

When: July 10-14, 2017
Where: Westin Copley Place, Boston Massachusetts

Details and registration information available at the workshop website.

Agriculture Bioscience International Conference

Hosted by the Life Science Association of Manitoba and the Government of Manitoba, this year's ABIC Conference is set up to provide three days of guest speakers, student research presentations, exhibitors and networking opportunities for attendees.

A few of the topics to be presented:
  • Quality versus Quantity and the Implication to Food Security
  • Nutrigenomics / Nutrigenetics – How our DNA will shape our diets in the Future
  • Smart Farms - The Link between Biotechnology and Enhanced Nutrition
When: September 25 - 28, 2017
Where: Delta Winnipeg Hotel, Winnipeg, Manitoba

More details on the program, accommodations and registration can be found here.

American Society of Human Genetics Annual Meeting

The 67th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics is the largest human genetics meeting and exposition in the world. This year’s meeting is expected to attract over 6,500 scientific attendees, plus almost 250 exhibiting companies. The meeting provides a forum for the presentation and discussion of cutting-edge science in all areas of human genetics.

When: October 17 - 21, 2017
Where: Orange County Convention Center, Orlando Florida

More info & registration is available at the meeting website.

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