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May 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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'Dancing backwards in high heels'

Study finds female professors experience more work demands and special favor requests, particularly from academically "entitled" students.
Source: Inside Higher Ed

'The future of life on Earth lies in the balance' – a picture essay

The United Nations’ report on biodiversity paints a bleak picture of the earth as biodiversity shrinks and extinction gains ground. These pictures will leave an impression far beyond the words in the report.
Source: The Guardian

New funding for University of Winnipeg to expand digital agriculture

Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada, announced $2.4 million in funding to promote machine learning and grow the digital agriculture industry in Manitoba. UWinnipeg physics professor, Dr. Christopher Bidinosti is leading the UWinnipeg project along with applied computer science professor, Dr. Christopher Henry. Their research team includes experts from UWinnipeg, Red River College, the University of Saskatchewan, Northstar Robotics, Sightline Innovation, the Canola Council of Canada, and Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers.
Source: Bioscience Association of Manitoba

Is science broken? Major new report outlines problems in research

A new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has some stern words for scientist and journalist who overhype new research findings. It also suggests there should be broad improvements to the way research is conducted. The main target for those changes is reproducibility.
Source: Gizmodo

‘He is wrong’: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s family calls him out for anti-vaccine conspiracy theories

The son of the late U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (assassinated in 1968) is a long-time supporter of the debunked theory that vaccines lead to autism. Robert F. Kennedy Jr also did not seem to learn much form his uncle John f. Kennedy who as President established the first U.S. wide programs for immunization. The Kennedy name is an influential voice but some of Robert Jr.’s family members have now criticized his anti-vaccine stand.
Source: Washington Post

Gender equity in medicine – are conferences keeping up?

“Understanding gender disparities in conference speakership is important for understanding gender inequity in medicine” says the Cumming School of Medicine's Dr. Shannon Ruzycki, MD. Dr. Ruzycki and Dr. Aleem Bharwani, MD, (pictured at right, courtesy University of Calgary) led a study that explored the trends in proportion of female speakers at medical conferences in the United States and in Canada. The work was published in JAMA Open Network last month.
Source: University of Calgary

Ford government cuts eHealth, research budgets, spending documents show

The Government of Ontario has put forward a detailed spending plan to go with the budget it tabled last month. Budgets generally give broad outlines and it is not until the spending plan is brought forward that people can get a clear picture of where the money or cuts will flow. Approximately $70 million will be cut from eHealth Ontario and nearly $50 million less for health policy and research.
Source: Global News and Ontario Government Media Release

Why the measles outbreak has roots in today's political polarization

When it comes to the intersection of science and society we are blessed – or cursed – with the recent measles outbreak as a perfect case study on why that intersection has some many collisions. Did you know there is an Anti-Compulsory Vaccination Hymn?
Source: Los Angeles Times

In historic step, FDA & DOJ seek injunctions on 2 key unproven stem cell clinic firms

“The DOJ and FDA are seeking permanent injunctions in federal court against two of the most widespread and influential of the for-profit, unproven stem cell clinic firms in the U.S.” A rundown from Paul Knoepfler’s Stem Cell Lab.
Source: The Niche

Machine learning overtakes humans in predicting death or heart attack

After analyzing 84 variables in 950 patients with known outcomes an algorithm was able to identify patterns correlating the variables to death and heart attack with more than 90% accuracy. The study was supported by The Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence on Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease, Helsinki, Finland and the Finnish Foundation for Cardiovascular Research. The results were presented this week at the International Conference on Nuclear Cardiology and Cardiac CT held in Lisbon.
Source: EurekAlert

Academics raise concerns about predatory journals on PubMed

Predatory journals are those that publish low quality content that has not been checked or peer reviewed, and with little or no editorial oversight. They are generally considered predatory because of the fees they charge for publication and the effort made to trick academics into publishing with them. Most organization or libraries have procedures in place to keep these journals out of their repositories, but the suspect journals can still get through and some researchers feel that more scrutiny is needed.
Source: The Scientist

LISTEN: Are you ready for the Zero Dollar Genome?

George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard & MIT, and Manuel Corpas is Chief Scientist and Founder of Cambridge Precision Medicine Ltd talk with host Kat Arney about the future of personal genome sequencing. George Church is also known for his Personal Genomes Project, which asks volunteers to publicly share their personal genome data. Apart from his work in clinical and personal genomic services, Manuel Corpas got his whole family involved in having their own genome sequencing completed. Put on the headphones and listen to this 34-minute podcast.
Source: Genetic Literacy Project

He pioneered technology that fueled the Human Genome Project. Now his greatest challenge is curing his own son

Ron Davis heads up a Stanford University lab which powered much of the technology behind the Human Genome Project. How he finds himself faced with taking care of his critically ill son and doing what he can to help find a cure.
Source: CNN
Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

Google backs a bid to use CRISPR to prevent heart disease

Verve Therapeutics said it had raised $58.5 million from funders including Google Ventures. Verve said it has licensed CRISPR patents from the Broad and Harvard for human therapeutic applications against specified cardiovascular targets.
Source: MIT Technology Review

LISTEN: Will gene-edited food be government regulated?

A U.S. company is developing a new soybean with “high oleic” oil which happens to be a feature of wild relatives of our modern soybean. This key feature is an example of how gene editing can move the regulatory process along faster than if genetic modification was the keyword in the process.
Source: NPR

Gene editing: An evolution, not a resolution

Gene editing can prevent pigs from contracting porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome or PRRS. If the technology is to take hold and eradicate the disease, it will need to go through an extensive regulatory process and then gain consumer trust. In the meantime, producers have to increase their use of antibiotics which consumers are also concerned about. It is a Catch-22 for the industry.
Source: National Hog Farmer

Papers & Features Up arrow

Using selfies to challenge public stereotypes of scientists

Jarreau PB, et al. 2019 PLoS ONE 14(5): e0216625. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216625

If you needed proof that there is an advantage to putting a human face to research this may be what you were after. Participants who viewed scientist selfies “...perceived scientists as significantly warmer than did participants who saw science-only images or control images”. You may be saddened though to learn that scientists are generally perceived to be highly competent but “only moderately warm”.
Source: PLOS ONE

Engineered bacteriophages for treatment of a patient with a disseminated drug-resistant Mycobacterium abscessus

Dedrick, RM, et al. 2019 Nature Medicine DOI: 10.1038/s41591-019-0437-z

A 15-year-old girl with cystic fibrosis with a serious infection was treated with a three-phage cocktail following bilateral lung transplantation. The British teen seems to be on the road to a full recovery.
Source: Nature and The Atlantic

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.

Cannabis: Cultivating Knowledge, Growing Innovation

After decades of prohibition, there is still much to learn about cannabis compared to other botanicals. Legalization introduces a whole new spectrum of cannabis opportunities beyond medical applications creating an urgent need for research to address gaps in knowledge on the effects and safety of cannabis as a whole — important areas of research that will help drive cannabis regulation.

Genomics can aid in the area of cannabis research for enhanced production efficiency, the creation of precision-designed varieties of cannabis capable of producing specific benefits, and help understand individual variability in cannabis response. The Forum will also help explore the unique opportunity BC and Canada have to lead the world around research and application of genomic technologies in the Cannabis industry.

This is a no-cost event, but you need to register.

When: Thursday, May 30, 2019 from 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM PDT

Registration and more information is available here.


Inventure$ 2019 is a network full of big ideas. This must-attend “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—all with the Canadian Rockies at your doorstep.

Featuring keynote speakers including Temple Grandin and Michele Romanow.

Genome Alberta will once again be hosting a special evening event featuring great food prepared by the chefs at the SAIT Tastemarket and lots of opportunities to meet the people behind the latest in sustainable food and agriculture. We have partnered with Corteva Agriscience and the AsTech Foundation and we would like you to join us on June 5th . GMO salmon, snacks made with cricket flour, tacos made with Omega-9 oil, and specialty brews will all be on the menu for the evening, so get your tickets soon!

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

Registration and details available at the Inventure$ site.

Canadian GE3LS Conference

Explore cutting edge issues in the application of emerging genomics technologies, and opportunities and training for Early Career Researchers, as well as the participation of patients and their families.
Conference themes include:
  • Whole genome sequencing in clinical practice: implementation challenges
  • Consumer genetics
  • Rare diseases: health services and policy research
  • Human gene editing (CRISPR): ethical, legal, and governance issues
Abstracts for oral and poster presentations are being accepted.

When: 16-19 June, 2019
Where: Fairmont le Château Montebello, Québec

More information, abstracts and registration available online.

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