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August 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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Report of the first gene-edited human embryos in the US

At the time we were preparing our newsletter there were reports that a U.S. researcher has used CRISPR technology to alter a human embryo. The reports are not coming from a scientific journal but are appearing in general media outlets including an MIT Technology Review story by UK freelancer journalist Steve Connor who also wrote the story in the UK iNewspaper. It was published in the tabloid under the headline “World exclusive: human embryos genetically altered for first time with new technology”.

The Center for Genetics and Society was quick to respond saying the news “underscores the need for stronger policy protections against engineering the genes of future children and generations”.

Without a scientific paper to work from many news sources have been doing what they can to report on the story. STAT said the procedure was done “apparently with few mistakes” and CBC started off with a Thomson Reuters version of the story. Though it didn’t link it directly with the CRISPR edited embryo development, Ontario Today with Rita Celli did a feature story on gene editing that offered some timely perspective on the technology. There is also a phone-in component to the hour long program so you can hear what the public thinks about the subject.

Federal minister says GM salmon project for P.E.I. requires assessment

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says any plan by AquaBounty Technologies to grow its AquAdvantage salmon at Rollo Bay, P.E.I., would be subject to strict requirements. AquaBounty's AquAdvantage salmon contains genetic material from ocean pout and Chinook salmon and is intended to grow to adult size quicker than conventional Atlantic salmon.
Source: MetroNews

Our obsession with eminence warps research

Status bias is given weight in funding, publishing, and hiring researchers but this article argues that “Favouring elite scientists is like giving Usain Bolt a 10-metre head start in his next race.”
Source: Nature

LISTEN: Patient driven research

Dr. Braden Manns, a professor of Medicine and Health Economics at the University of Calgary, talks about the concept of "patient-driven" research in this 5 minute interview.

How science can survive hostile governments

Government attitudes towards science vary by country and over time, but the science community has learned how to build support for its work. We saw it here in Canada a decade ago, Australia eliminated the science advisor position in 2013, and now the U.S. is experiencing an administration that tends to ignore scientific evidence. A paper in Conservation Biology looks at some of these uneasy relationships between science and government actions. Katie Gibbs, the executive director of Canadian-based Evidence for Democracy is one of the paper’s authors and is featured in this article from The Atlantic.
Source: The Atlantic

What makes dogs so friendly? Study finds genetic link to super-outgoing people

People with Williams-Beuren Syndrome are often vert trusting and “hyper-social. Kind of like your dog that seeks out contact and rushes to greet you when you come home. There appears to be a genetic link between sociability in dogs and WBS in people and may also be one reason dogs were quickly domesticated by people.
Source: AAAS Science

Facts don’t matter

“Harper is gone, but pro-development governments continue to ignore science”, says David Schindler. He is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at University of Alberta and an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Source: Alberta Views

How an actor's rare genetic disorder launched a career playing scary monsters

At last, a story from Hollywood Reporter sneaks into out GenOmics in Society Newsletter. Javier Botet has Marfan syndrome and has managed to turn his genetic disorder into a bonus. From playing a mummy to an alien, his unique body shape and ability to bend himself into odd positions has made him in-demand for specialized movie roles.
Source: Hollywood Reporter

LISTEN: UK Biobank makes available vast trove of genetics information

The UK Biobank is a unique long term study of human health. The project has released genetic data on half a million Britons to approved researchers and the Biobank believes it is the single largest release of a genetic dataset in terms of number of individuals genotyped. This 23 minute podcast covers the project in general, and about the specific release of the information.
Source: UK Biobank

And on the Alberta biobank news front: Biobank regulations could give Alberta researchers a leg up

Integrating genomics into public health surveillance: Ushering in a new era of precision public health

Better information technology, data science, analytical methods, and information sharing are making genetic and environmental data more accessible. Combining the information into public health surveillance will provide a more complete picture of what is affecting health and disease, and what the impact of health interventions really is.
Source: CDC Genomics and Health Impact Blog

New clinics in Toronto, London will speed stem cell transplants: health minister

People in Ontario who need stem cell transplants for leukemia and other blood cancers will get them faster when new clinics in Toronto and London come into service. The facilities at Princess Margaret Hospital and London Health Sciences centre will boost capacity by 440 transplants annually, 45 per cent more than the 958 transplants conducted last year.
Source: Toronto Star
Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

Scientists upload a galloping horse GIF into bacteria with CRISPR

Harvard researchers have used CRISPR to insert bits of DNA encoded with photos and a GIF of a galloping horse into live bacteria. They were able get the images back by sequencing the bacterial genomes with about 90 percent accuracy. There won’t be a new Academy Award category for the work and it would be a bit tedious to encode the latest Planet of the Apes flick but it is a proof-of-concept and shows the power of gene editing technology.
Source: Wired and Nature

Is international CRISPR regulation a pipe dream?

Probably says the author. Regulations would have to reach beyond political and geographical borders, not to mention the walls that divide academic and industry labs. Then there are the biohackers dabbling with the technology in makerspaces or souped-up garage labs.
Source: U of T Transcripts

Papers & Features Up arrow

Marketing of unproven stem cell–based interventions: A call to action

Sipp, D., et al. (2017) Science Translational Medicine DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aag0426

Commercial promotion of unsupported therapeutic uses of stem cells is a global problem that has proven resistant to regulatory efforts. The authors suggest a coordinated approach at the national and international levels focused on engagement, harmonization, and enforcement to reduce the risks associated with direct-to-consumer marketing of unproven stem cell treatments. You’ll need AAAS access to get the full text
Source: Science Translational Medicine 05 Jul 2017

Baby genome screening: paving the way to genetic discrimination?

Seidel, Markus G., (2017) BMJ doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j3294

Newborn screening programmes for a set of disease biomarkers are mandatory in many countries of the world in order to detect inborn errors early on and to avoid disabilities in, or the premature death of, otherwise healthy babies. Could population-wide newborn whole genome screening lead to next generation eugenics? You’ll need full access to read the entire paper.
Source: BMJ 2017; 358

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.

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.

4th Annual Canadian Conference on Epigenetics: Mechanisms of Disease

This symposium is intended to bring together a critical mass of epigenetics researchers, along with key international leaders in the field, to engage in cross-disciplinary dialogue on recent advancements in the field of epigenomics with a focus on the impact of epigenetic mechanisms in human disease.

Travel awards are available for research trainees, medical students, and knowledge dissemination experts. Please see www.epigenomes.ca/events for more information.

When: November 26 - 29, 2017
Where: The Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler, British Columbia

Registration is now open and there is still time to submit your presentation ideas and abstracts.

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