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June 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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Celebrating Dr. Michael Smith

25 years ago, British Columbia’s Dr. Michael Smith was awarded a Nobel Prize. Did you know or work with Dr. Smith? Did he influence your work and career? The Michael Smith Foundation wants to hear from you. They have set up a web page asking for your thoughts on his life, his legacy, and his work.

Could the DNA of these ‘super seniors’ hold the secret to healthy aging?

We’re all getting older but doing so gracefully seems to easier for ‘super seniors’. 700 of these seniors part of a continuing project called the Super-Seniors Study, led by Angela Brooks-Wilson, a geneticist at BC Cancer Agency and chair of the department of biomedical physiology and kinesiology at Simon Fraser University.

How the new Ebola vaccine was made in Canada

Last week a made-in-Canada Ebola vaccine was used for the first time. The virus first appeared in 1976 and it has taken years for the vaccine to be developed after the first steps were taken in 1999 at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
Source: CBC

Rice, the staple food of billions, could become less nutritious because of climate change

Climate change brings about higher concentrations of carbon dioxide which is bad news for rice because it results in a lower vitamin levels. This could have a serious impact on the health of the billions of people around the world who rely on rice as a main food staple. Many of those people live in poorer countries.
Source: Washington Post

Vivera to boost plant-based steak production after Tesco sell-out

After 400 Tesco stores in the UK sold out of Vivera’s 100% plant-based steaks, the company is ramping up production. Vivera is based in the Netherlands and its first 40,000 products went on sale on May 21st. . Before the month was over – the steaks were gone.
Source: Global Meat News

WATCH: The NOW of genomic medicine

At the Future of Genomic Medicine 2018 conference, Jenny Reardon of University of California Santa Cruz spoke about meeting the challenges of interpretation and care in the postgenomic condition. The Future of Genomic Medicine is hosted annually by the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California.
Source: YouTube/Scripps

Up close and personal

Personalized cancer medicine has advanced from being a distant hope to a clinical reality. Oncologists regularly individualize treatments to target a tumor’s unique genetic weaknesses. But because these personalized medicines reach healthy tissues and tumors alike, even the most targeted treatments can cause unwanted side-effects. Nanoparticles are being used to deliver the drugs closer to the tumour target.
Source: Scientific American

Pink pineapples and healthy fries: The new GM foods made for you

Apples that don’t brown, potatoes that don’t bruise, and omega-3 canola are just a few of the genetically modified foods on the market today. They are not just the product of a scientific idea – they were developed because they had characteristics in demand by consumers.

And as an aside Genome Alberta would like you to join us for non-browning apples, omega-3 canola, AquaBounty salmon and other interesting menu items specially prepared for our TasteTech reception that is part of the Inventure$ conference in Calgary. Want to attend a special evening of high-tech food? Go to our registration page and use promo code GABNewsletter

Source: New Scientist

Unconscious biases in the grant peer-review process

Grant application reviewers who are acquainted with the applicant must declare their conflicts of interest to remove any appearance of preference. Nevertheless, unconscious biases can still sneak in. Also known as implicit bias, this can be for or against a variety of characteristics that have no bearing on the merit or excellence of the applicant.
Source: Science Borealis

Stem cell bank opens with backing from leading scientists. Is it worth the money?

Talk about banking on stem cell hype, LifeVault Bio is offering to store your stem cells in a sealed time capsule. The company is suggesting that by preserving cells before aging sets in, the cells could be used to treat customers if research results in treatments for heart disease, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. All for a mere $995.00 and an annual fee of $95.00. U.S. dollars of course.
Source: Stat News

Scientists get more bang for their buck if given more freedom

More academic freedom equals more efficient, high-quality research according to researchers in the Netherlands. The study challenges the notion that competition for funding drives efficiency.
Source: Nature

China’s slow approvals of biotech crops cost U.S. $7 billion

A report by CropLife International says that delays in Chinese approvals of imported genetically modified crops have cut U.S. gross domestic product by about $7 billion over the past five years by reducing sales of crops and other good.
Source: Western Producer

University of Alberta's School of Public Health to get a northern touch

“Fly in and out” academics may become a thing of the past as the University of Alberta works towards a School of Public Health campus in Yellowknife. The northern strategy was launched last week and will include a Yellowknife-based professor, five adjunct professors from the Northwest Territories, and more opportunities for the school’s students to study in the NWT.
Source: Cabin Radio and CBC

A new genetic clue to how our brains got so big

Three genes that appeared during our early evolution probably increased the number of neurons in our heads—but at a cost.
Source: The Atlantic

Canadian companies at BIO 2018

Genome Alberta will be at BIO in Boston along with 15,000 or so of our closest friends including 100 plus Canadian companies. Communications Director Mike Spear will be recording audio podcast throughout the week with as many timely and interesting guests as possible. A quick look back at last year was recently posted on the Genome Alberta website and if you want to look forward to who will be at BIO, here is a list of Canadian companies collated by BIOTECanada.

Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

CRISPR Therapeutics and Vertex provide update on FDA review of investigational new drug application for CTX001 for the treatment of sickle cell disease

“CRISPR Therapeutics and Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated announced this week that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has placed a clinical hold on the Investigational New Drug Application (IND) for CTX001 for the treatment of sickle cell disease pending the resolution of certain questions that will be provided by the FDA as part of its review of the IND. The IND was submitted to the FDA in April to support the planned initiation of a Phase 1/2 trial in the U.S. in adult patients with sickle cell disease. CRISPR and Vertex expect to obtain additional information on the FDA’s questions in the near future and plan to work rapidly with the FDA toward a resolution”.
Source: News Release

As D.I.Y. gene editing gains popularity, ‘Someone is going to get hurt’

Biohackers across the country have taken gene editing into their own hands. As the equipment becomes cheaper and the expertise in gene-editing techniques, mostly Crispr-Cas9, more widely shared, there is lots of room for error.
Source: NY Times

Papers & Features Up arrow

Genetic Information, the Principle of Rescue, and Special Obligations

Liao, SM and Mackenzie, J. The Hastings Centre Report (2018) doi.org/10.1002/hast.850

Re: Genetic Privacy, Disease Prevention, and the Principle of Rescue.
We doubt....whether the principle of rescue can ground a duty to warn in the cases Kilbride envisages, and we suggest that Kilbride may have underappreciated the role that special obligations could play in generating a duty to warn family members.

Epigenetic discrimination: emerging applications of epigenetics pointing to the limitations of policies against genetic discrimination 

Dupras, C. et al Frontiers in Genetics (2018) doi: 10.3389/fgene.2018.00202

Over more than two decades, various policies have been adopted worldwide to restrict the use of individual genetic information for non-medical reasons by third parties and prevent ‘genetic discrimination’. In this paper, we bring attention to the growing interest of individual epigenetic information by insurers and forensic scientists.
Source: Frontiers in Genetics

Disparities in science literacy

Allum., N. et al. Science (2018) DOI: 10.1126/science.aar8480

Given the importance of science literacy to securing and sustaining many jobs, to understanding key health concepts to enhance quality of life, and to increasing public engagement in societal decision-making, it is concerning if the distribution of science literacy is unequally stratified, particularly if this stratification reflects broader patterns of disadvantage and cultural dominance as experienced by minorities and educationally underserved populations.
Source: Science

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.


TasteTECH is an evening reception featuring delicious food from the intersection of biotechnology and agriculture. Expert chefs from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's culinary team at the Tastemarket will be there to serve freshly-made appetizers, or you can roll up your sleeves and give them a hand in the food preparation. You will be able to sample apples that don’t brown, salmon that matures quickly, and of course deep-fried goodies using canola oil designed to be higher in omega-9.

Looking for a more liquid experience? Explore the TasteOLOGY showcase where craft breweries and distilleries will highlight their products and the journey from farm to glass. With seed producers, farmers, malters, and brewmasters in attendance, you'll leave the evening with new expertise in craft beer and spirit production.

When: June 6, 2018, 6:00 - 9:00 PM
Where: 150- 444 7 Ave SW, Calgary

Registration and more details are available here. Use promo code GABNewsletter

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

ComSciCon 2018

At ComSciCon's National Workshop, participants build communication skills that scientists and other technical professionals need to express ideas to their peers, experts in other fields, and the general public. 

This year, the panel discussions feature the following topics:

  • Creative / Digital Storytelling
  • Diversity / Inclusivity in Science and Science Communication
  • Science Journalism
  • Case Study: Science Communication in Medicine

In addition to these discussions, time is allocated for networking with science communication experts and developing science outreach collaborations with fellow graduate students. Workshop participants will produce an original piece of science writing and receive feedback from workshop attendees and professional science communicators, including journalists, authors, public policy advocates, educators, and more.

When: June 14th-16th, 2018
Where: Boston, MA

For more information, please contact comscicon18@comscicon.org or join the informational email list

How Important are your Genes in Heart Health and Obesity

Leading scientists Dr. Liam Brunham and Dr. Susanne Clee will explore the role that genetics plays in important health conditions including heart disease, obesity and diabetes. In addition, Fred Hazen, a retired millwright from Kamloops, will tell his story of living with familial hypercholesterolemia, or FH, an inherited condition that leads to cardiovascular disease and how this condition has impacted his family. The talks will be followed by a moderated question and answer period open to everyone in attendance.

When: June 18, 2018, 6:00 - 7:30pm. Registration opens at 5:30.
Where: Kay Meek Centre, 1700 Mathers Ave., West Vancouver, BC

Registration is free and open to the public.

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