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June 30, 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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New concerns raised over value of genome-wide disease studies

Biologists are likely to find that larger studies turn up more and more genetic variants that have minuscule influences on disease, says Jonathan Pritchard. He is a geneticist at Stanford University and one of the authors of a new paper in Cell. The paper could raise doubts about whether funders should continue to support genome-wide association studies that offer little biological insight.
Source: Nature

What if (almost) every gene affects (almost) everything?

Following on the heels of the Nature story mentioned above, science writer Ed Yong tackled the same subject and concluded that if Pritchard and his colleagues are right, it have big implications for the field of genetics.
Source: The Atlantic

Digital reconstruction of ancient chromosomes reveals surprises about mammalian evolution

A new digital reconstruction of the chromosomes of the ancestor of all placental mammals has revealed the structures of DNA and proteins have become scrambled over time—a finding that may help pinpoint possible problem sites in our genomes that underlie cancer and other disease.
Source: AAAS Science

LISTEN: A mother's early death drives her daughter to find a treatment

This 2 part podcast from National Public Radio in the U.S. is a well done first person story about a family with a genetic disease that has no cure. Fatal Familial Disease is a prion disease that leaves the patient “stuck somewhere between awake and asleep” and leads to a rapid decline and death. Sonia Vallabh’s mother died of the disease and Sonia has tested positive for the same mutation. She has no signs of the disease yet and she and her husband have changed careers, set up a non-profit organization to raise funds, and are now graduate biomedical students studying he disease.
Source: NPR part 1 and part 2

Great article by Maryn McKenna on the hunt for new antibiotics w/ crowdsourcing help

The title of this article by Jonathan Eisen says it all. He is a professor and runs a lab at UC David Genome Center and has taken the time to provide you with some commentary, a link to the original story, and an audio version.
Source: microBEnet

Scientists capture DNA replication on video for the first time. Here’s what it revealed

The video reveals that the process is more chaotic than once believed and prompts new questions about how the cell prevents mutations. Read the story, watch the video.
Source: Futurism

WATCH: Medical treatments made just for you

60% of us will have a genetic disorder in our lifetime according to a University of Toronto professor. Brendan Frey is part of CIFAR’s genetic networks program, and is using machine learning to help develop better diagnostics and therapies.
Source: Research2Reality

A big step forward for Canada's federal scientists

Stephanne Taylor and Katie Gibbs from Evidence for Democracy say that one are where Canada is distinguishing itself from the U.S. is in its efforts to protect public science. Most recently is the commitment to create science integrity policies for all federal departments by 2018.
Source: Ottawa Citizen

A Florida higher-ed official said women’s genetics may be keeping them from equal pay

You be the judge…..
Source: Washington Post

The power of a billion: India's genomics revolution

India accounts for about 20% of the world's population, they only represent about 0.2% of DNA sequences in global genetic databases. 81% comes from people with European ancestry. Global Gene Corp wants to change that by focusing on South Asia, and they are not alone in the effort to diversify the world’s growing database of genetic information.
Source: BBC

Editor in Chief Michelle Lee reveals her 23andMe genetic testing results

Allure is a fashion and beauty magazine and not exactly the place you head to for information about genetic testing but it is widely read and certainly a good vehicle for genetic information out to the general public. When the magazine’s Editor decided to get a genetic test through 23andMe it made for food magazine fodder and it will almost certainly be widely read.
Source: Allure

How Watson for oncology Is advancing personalized patient care

After cleaning up against human competitors in the Jeopardy game show challenge, IBM’s cognitive computer Watson moved on to medical school. After 5 years of training the Watson for Oncology system is in use at the Jupiter Medical Centre in Florida and in the testing phase at many other U.S. cancer centers. Watson matches key data from the patient and suggests evidence based treatment tailored to the individual.
Source: ASCO Post

Canada +150: DNA barcodes — sci-fi tech to safeguard environment

In 2003 a research team at University of Guelph led by Paul Hebert proposed a new system of species identification and using a short section of DNA from a standardized region of an organism’s genome. Since then, ‘barcodes’ has been created for more than 500,000 species. Canada can take credit for a technology that will be part of everyday life in the years to come.
Source: The Conversation

Scientists in limbo as US Supreme Court allows modified travel ban

A U.S. Supreme Court Decision has cast doubt on the fate of students and scientists from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen who hope to study or work in the United States. Some , many researchers are worried uncertainty surrounding immigration to the United States may have already driven away some international students and scientists and that the problem will get worse.
Source: Nature

Women can read minds better than men, according to a totally unsurprising study

You might be better off reading the original study in Molecular Psychiatry or a good summary in Science Daily, but why bother when you can opt for the Wow factor! (And yes, it relates to genomics)
Source: PureWow

To get over sticker shock, new payment models are needed for gene therapies

Personalized medicine may be good for the patient but it wreaks havoc with public health care budgets. Approved gene therapies are not like a course of drugs therapy but are ‘one and done’ treatments. That changes the costing model considerably.
Source: STAT

Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?

The cost of Reed-Elsevier publishing’s business is scientific journals that generate significant revenue for the company. Little wonder given the business model. Scientists create the content for free, peer review is generally volunteer, and the journals with all the content are sold back to the academic institutions that generated the content. And those journals don’t come cheap. “Perverse and mindless” is one way a biologist described science publishing.
Source: The Guardian

What is Black? Students unlock mystery of ancestry through genetic testing

There is no genetic foundation for race but the science has been used to justify eugenics and racism. But Alondra Nelson says in The Atlantic that easily available genetic tests have helped many people dig deeper into their roots and back into their community. Students at Davidson College in North Carolina decided to use the technology to understand more about themselves.
Source: Davidson College and a story from The Atlantic that dovetails nicely.

Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

Huntington’s disease: Gene editing shows promise in mouse studies

The gene that leads to Huntington’s disease has been known since 1993 but that has not led to a cure. Thanks to new gene editing technology, there is good news on horizon says NIH Director Francis Collins. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine has shown some success in using CRISPR to halt the disease in mice.
Source: NIH Blog

CRISPR platform scans DNA to predict off-target effects

Scientists from The University of Texas at Austin took an important step toward safer gene-editing cures for life-threatening disorders, from cancer to HIV to Huntington's disease, by developing CHAMP, which stands for chip-hybridized association-mapping platform. It repurposes next-generation sequencing chips to enable the massively parallel profiling of protein–nucleic acid interactions.
Source: Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News

Bringing CRISPR into focus

Harvard Medical School and Cornell University scientists have generated near-atomic resolution snapshots of CRISPR that reveal key steps in its mechanism of action. The findings, published in Cell on June 29, provide the structural data necessary for efforts to improve the efficiency and accuracy of CRISPR for biomedical applications.
Source: Science Daily

Papers & Features Up arrow

Mouse brain models reveal insights into genetics of autism

Gompers, A, et al. (2017) Nature Neuroscience doi:10.1038/nn.4592

While the definitive causes remain unclear, several genetic and environmental factors increase the likelihood of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, a group of conditions covering a "spectrum" of symptoms, skills and levels of disability. Researchers led by Alex Nord, from the Center for Neuroscience at the University of California, Davis, are gaining a better understanding of the role played by a specific gene involved in autism. The collaborative work includes Canadian Jason Lerch from the Hospital for Sick Children.
Source: Nature Neuroscience

Say hello to my little friends: how microbiota can modulate tree health

Feau, N. and Hamelin, R. C. (2017), New Phytol, 215: 508–510. doi:10.1111/nph.14649

The interaction between trees and pests is far more complex that we realize. The trees microbiota is now seen as playing a major role in tree health but our understanding of the relationship is still limited. A Genome BC / Genome Quebec LSARP project is studying a tree’s defence against disease and pests.
Source: New Phytologist

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.

BioBlitz 2017

What does Alberta’s biodiversity look like in the far southwestern corner of the province this summer? Learn about the ecosystem of the Canadian Rockies with scientists and researchers from across the province and spend time enjoying the summer with friends and family at this free event!

Organizers remind all participants to make sure they dress for the weather. Bring along sunscreen, insect repellent, water, proper hiking footwear, and lunch as there are no food vendors on-site.

When: July 15, 10 am - 11 pm and July 16, 10 am - 3 pm
Where: University of Lethbridge’s Westcastle Field Station, in Castle Mountain Provincial Park. (pdf map)

Questions? Contact John Swann, University of Calgary, or visit the event webpage.

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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