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August 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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Truth, disrupted

A “Big Idea” story about what 3 journalists have learned about the spread of false news and how it can be contained. Apparently there is hope!
Source: Harvard Business Review

Walsh and Gibbs: Why Doug Ford's science cuts could hurt Ontario

It isn’t just the big headline cuts that make a difference – a series of smaller cost cutting measures can hurt just as much. Freezing travel and cancelling subscriptions have implications as well.
Source: Ottawa Citizen

In lawsuit, Human Longevity alleges that Craig Venter stole trade secrets

In 2013 well known geneticist Craig Venter founded Human Longevity, a company which promised to develop databases of human genotypes and phenotypes, and then mine the information to develop drugs and treatments that could pus back the aging process. Since then he has retired from the company or been fired – depending on which story you are inclined to accept. Now he is being sued by the company for violating an agreement he had with Human Longevity.
Source: STAT

Deciding where the 'gender line' is in track & field

Is two-time Olympic champion sprinter Castor Semenya a woman or is “she” really a man? That all depends on the definition of gender as viewed by the International Association of Athletics Federations. Ms. Semenya competes as a woman but the IAAF has laid out rules that may force her into competing in the men’s division.
Source: American Council on Science and Health

New York Genome Center receives grant to help understand diverse cancer genomics

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research announced a $1M grant to the New York Genome Center to support a new, multi-institutional endeavor to study the genomics of cancer across the diverse communities of New York City. The project is hoping to improve outcomes for patients by increasing the participation of ethnic groups currently underrepresented in existing genomic databases.
Source: NYGC

Timothy Caulfield on Elle Macpherson, anti-Vaxx nonsense, and the opportunity to engage

We may not always admit, but we do like a little celebrity gossip now and then and sometimes find it hard to resist a few clicks on the latest news (if you call it that!). Tim Caulfield however finds it somewhat frustrating when it starts moving into the spreading of pseudoscience.
Source: BMJ Opinion

Meanwhile in other Tim Caulfield news:
U of A law professor’s show gets picked up by streaming giant Netflix

Pet genomics medicine runs wild

The latest wild west frontier in genetic testing is for dogs. Dog owners being what they are, they are generally willing to go to great lengths in the quest for the best possible ways to ensure their pets are healthy and happy. That now includes genetic screening but it may be based on weak science and not always deliver as advertised. Hmmm….. where have we heard about that before?
Source: Nature (includes a good Nature audio podcast feature) and NPR (also with a podcast feature)

Ottawa unveils integrity rules to shield scientists from interference

The federal government released its “Model policy on scientific integrity” this week. The policy is part of a promise in 2017 that was part of the Memoranda of Agreement between the Treasury Board and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) in Respect of Scientific Integrity. The policy covers transparency, the ethical conduct of research, freedom from political interference, and includes mechanisms for dealing with breaches of scientific integrity.
Source: Ottawa Citizen, the Office of the Chief Science Advisor and Canada’s National Observer

US agency deems Impossible Burger’s key GMO ingredient safe

The Impossible Burger can now claim to be the ‘possible’ burger as well. It is a burger that uses heme as its main ingredient. Heme is made from genetically engineered yeast and has been the target of activist groups who question the safety of the product. According to the its manufacturer, Impossible Foods, the burger requires 75% less water, generate less greenhouse gases, ad require less land for production that ground beef produced from cows. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had already approved the burger for sale in the U.S. and last week took the extra step of giving it a “no further questions” letter. Whether that will settle the issue with critics remains to be seen.
Source: Alliance for Science

The mysterious case of Alberta's rogue GMO wheat: Could it happen again?

After a small number of genetically modified wheat plants were found growing in a roadside ditch there was a collective head scratch as experts tried to figure out where the plants had come from. Japan immediately banned imports of Canadian wheat even though there was no evidence that the problem was any bigger than the isolated collection of GMO stalks. Japan has accepted the assurances that there are no GMOs in Canadian wheat exports, but even after a thorough investigation it is not clear where the wheat came from.
Source: Calgary Herald

Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

“Organisms obtained by mutagenesis are GMOs and are, in principle, subject to the obligations laid down by the GMO Directive”

With that headline ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union, researchers and companies working on gene editing technology have been sent into a tailspin. The initial news stories were surprisingly vague and only referred to a “series of new biotechnology breeding techniques” that were now under the GMO umbrella. Within 24 hours however science writers, news outlets, and researchers had sunk their teeth into what has happened.

“Absurd” is how Matt Ridley described the ruling in The Times. He went on to say that the ruling was based more on politics and lobbying than it was on science and expert panels. The debate on how to treat gene edited plants and animals has been going on for a decade, but now that there is a ruling in place the feeling is that the biotech industry may have lost 10 years of effort and the Guardian said it was a setback for UK scientists involved in field trials of gene edited camelina crops. Nature quotes one researcher saying “This will have a chilling effect on research”. It also seems likely that European research will simply shift overseas to North America.

Farm Futures has been following the story and posted a short summary as well as a comment from U.S. Agricultural Secretary Sunny Perude on the ruling. Steven Salzberg a contributor to Forbes Magazine was not impressed with the ruling and suggested that salt, wild boar, and wild blueberries were about the only food that would not be classified as GMO. The New York Times feels the ruling is sowing confusion and said it raises a more fundamental question about what genetically modified actually means now.

Needless to say however, some see this as nothing more than a victory over Monsanto.

We can’t leave that as the final word and instead leave that to Feed Navigator which echoes the broad feeling from the research community that there needs to be a science based legal framework for new plant breeding techniques.

WATCH: Dr Simon Lillico on uses of gene editing

This new video and animation from the Roslin Institute explains how gene editing was used to make pigs resistant to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome.
Source: Roslin Institute video and media release.

CRISPR can speed up nature and change how we grow food

Tomatoes, corn, canola, and many other foods we grow are not what they used to be. Some are unrecognizable from their ancestors of a few hundred years ago, some may look the same but have been improved upon over a few decades. With the help of new genetic technology we can change the time frame to make our food supply more sustainable and this long tells the tale using the tomato to take you through the history and the challenges encountered along the way.
Source: Wired

Papers & Features Up arrow

Genome Editing and Human Reproduction

Nuffield Council on Bioethics

An independent inquiry by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics has concluded that editing the DNA of a human embryo, sperm, or egg to influence the characteristics of a future person (‘heritable genome editing’) could be morally permissible. If that is to happen, a number of measures would need to be put in place first to ensure that genome editing proceeds in ways that are ethically acceptable.
Source: Nuffield Council on Bioethics

Privacy Best Practices for Consumer Genetic Testing Services

Future of Privacy Forum

Future of Privacy Forum, along with leading consumer genetic and personal genomic testing companies 23andMe, Ancestry, Helix, MyHeritage, and Habit, released Privacy Best Practices for Consumer Genetic Testing Services. The Best Practices establish standards for genetic data generated in the consumer context by making recommendations for companies’ privacy practices.
Source: Future of Privacy Forum

How should clinicians weigh the benefits and harms of discussing politicized topics that influence their individual patients’ health?

Diana Alame, MD, MBE and Robert D. Truog, MD, AMA J Ethics. 2017;19(12):1174-1182. doi: 0.1001/journalofethics.2017.19.12.ecas3-1712.

“Health implications of politically charged phenomena are particularly difficult for physicians to discuss with their patients and communities. Addressing climate change and its associated health effects involves trade-offs between health and economic prosperity, necessitating that physicians weigh the potential benefits and risks of discussing climate change health effects. We argue that the potential benefits of physician communication and advocacy ultimately outweigh the potential risks.”
Source: AMA Journal of Ethics

The Path to Routine Genomic Screening in Health Care

Murray MF. Ann Intern Med. [Epub ahead of print 31 July 2018] doi: 10.7326/M18-1722

In 1991, Dr. Walter Gilbert, a Nobel laureate who developed DNA sequencing methods, suggested that, “By around 2020, the cost of sequencing will have dropped low enough to allow sequencing an individual's entire DNA. People will come back from a physical examination with their own DNA sequence on a compact disc or its 2020 equivalent”. From both a technology and a cost perspective, some are ready to begin to fulfill Gilbert's prediction. However, current implementation models that demonstrate clinical utility for routine genomic screening (GS), although promising, are still preliminary.

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.

18th International Biotech Symposium & Exhibition

The 18th International Biotech Symposium & Exhibition brings diverse research and applications of biotechnology together under one roof. It will provide an international forum for the exchange of ideas and cross-pollination among peers, combined with a social program to facilitate networking. 

The theme of the 2018 conference is Supporting a Healthy World. Biotechnology is revolutionizing the development of innovative medicines and diagnostics, sustainable agriculture, new sources of energy, and environmental remediation. With the advent and integration of big data and artificial intelligence, biotechnology promises to transform our world.

Plenary speakers include:

When: August 12-17, 2018
WherePalais des congrès, Montréal, Quebec

Learn more & register for IBS18 at the conference website.

BioAlberta's 19th Annual AGM & Awards Gala

BioAlberta, in partnership with TEC Edmonton, presents the Health & Life Sciences Showcase and BioAlberta's 19th Annual Awards Gala.

Participants will have an opportunity for:
  • Company pitch sessions
  • One-on-one partnering meetings
  • Round table sessions on health economics and natural health products
Companies seeking investments are invited to apply for the pitch event. Innovators are invited to apply to participate in the partnering session.
Apply by August 15.

Registration opening soon!

When: 24 September 2018
Where: BMO Centre, Stampede Park, Calgary

Check the website for details and registration announcements.

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