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September 15, 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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Food evolution – an audio review

Food Evolution is a feature length film directed by Oscar-nominee Scott Hamilton Kennedy and narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, who was also a script consultant for the film. It focuses on not just the technology of GMOs, but the societal and cultural reaction to genetically modified foods. It was screened in Edmonton last week and Genome Alberta sent a freelance broadcaster to the event to see what Edmontonians thought of the documentary and the subject matter. We think you’ll find it an interesting listen.

Searching DNA: Identifying the disappeared in Colombia

A negotiated peace between FARC and the Colombian government may have settled many tensions in the country but there are still as many as 45,000 people still missing. As part of the peace agreement, both sides agreed to find and identify the missing but it will be a long and difficult process. There are many techniques being used to identify the bodies including the Combined Index System database to track and process genetic information.
Source: Al Jazeera

Science journal Nature ventures into racist medical atrocities — and regrets it

Nature Magazine published an article called "Removing statues of historical figures risks whitewashing history". In September 4th. On September 7th it revised the article saying the original version was “offensive and poorly worded” and it changed the headline to "Science must acknowledge its past mistakes and crimes". It has set social media, mainstream media, and some pockets of the science media abuzz.
Source: Washington Post and The Atlantic

Why insurers are wrong about Canada's genetic non-discrimination law

This article by Mike Hoy, Professor of Economics at the University of Guelph originally appeared in The Conversation and addresses Bill S-201, the genetic discrimination law. He has been researching genetic discrimination and says that the law will not have a major impact on insurance rates, and that it does address genetic discrimination laws.
Source: National Post

Beware of hype in medical science

Dr. Brian Goldman does a regular feature for CBC and in this White Coat. Black Art blog post talks about a “heap of hype”, uncovered in a PLoS paper. If there was a ray of light to be found, it is that media is catching on to some of the hype, and that words like ‘breakthrough’ and ‘game-changer’ are a turn-off.
Source: CBC Online

Researchers riled by lack of detail in Brexit science plans

The British government has released a position paper about how it would like to handle scientific relationships with the EU after it leaves the bloc. Some social media comments said the report writers spent more time on headlines and formatting than they did on the content. One way or another though, the UK science community is not impressed saying it is short on specific proposals and long on pledges to “seek an ambitious science and innovation agreement”.
Source: Nature

New carp species to extend scale of GM produce

Canadian supermarkets are the first to sell the fast growing genetically modified salmon developed by AquaBounty technologies. China has been developing a genetically modified crown carp which it hopes to see ready for market within the next 2 years.
Source: China Daily

The billion-dollar gamble: Biotech CEO takes a risky second shot at an Alzheimer’s drug

David Hung is back for another try at developing an Alzheimer's drug. He was CEO of Medivation which had high hopes for an Alzheimer’s treatment in 2010 but eventually had a “startling failure”, and lost the company a billion dollars in stock value. Dr. Hung is ready to try it again with Axovant Sciences. This is an interesting article that goes beyond the business side and into what keeps David Hung motivated.
Source: Stat

Massive genetic study shows how humans are evolving

A study published in PLoS Biology set out to pinpoint how the human genome is evolving, and suggests that natural selection is getting rid of harmful genetic mutations that shorten people’s lives.
Source: Nature

How the forces of 'dark DNA' have bent the path of evolution

Genome sequencing has answered many questions about how organisms have evolved but it has also opened up a few mysteries. Certain pieces of the genome seem to be missing and are being labelled as “dark DNA”. Research has shown these pieces are not exactly missing but are also not found where they were expected to be. How this has come about and what it means over the course of an organism’s evolution is the mystery waiting for more study.
Source: IB Tmes

New gene-therapy treatments will carry whopping price tags

Biotech companies are working with academics and with other companies to try to find ways to make therapies for rare disease affordable to more patients, but it is a tough challenge. By definition a rare diseases is not one that is going to be mass marketed to support the initial costs of research and development. There are new therapies waiting to cure new diseases but will high costs leave patients behind. (see the Papers & Features section, below,  for a story that offers a new way to approach the problem)
Source: New York Times

Virus resistance in plants holds promise for agricultural crops

Concern over climate change and its impact on food production have increased our need to develop crops plants better able to survive stress. York University researchers are focusing on the American pokeweed plant and found the genes that help stave off viruses.
Source: York University
Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

Scientists use CRISPR technology to change flower colour

Roses are red, violets are blue – but they may not have to stay that way thanks to CRISPR. Japanese have used gene-editing to change the flower colour in the Japanese morning glory. You can read the original paper in Nature Scientific Reports.
Source: PhysOrg

From corn to cattle, gene editing is about to supercharge agriculture

The authors of this article (which appeared earlier this year) say that the current model of producing more food for more people is unsustainable. They start off with the example of corn which has been manipulated and modified so that it no longer looks or tastes like it did when it was first cultivated. What happened to corn over thousands of years can now take place much faster and more precisely with modern genomics technology.
Source: Digital Trends

Papers & Features Up arrow

A plutocratic proposal: An ethical way for rich patients to pay for a place on a clinical trial

Masters, A., Nutt, D, BMJ Journal of Medical Ethics (2017) doi: 10.1136/medethics-2016-104050

Now there is an idea that is sure to raise some eyebrows. Alexander Masters and Dominic Nutt think it is possible to make it happen in an ethical manner, and they feel that it could bring in new money for research. They have taken the somewhat unusual step of promoting their essay and looking for feedback through social media. So far there does not seem to be many takers.
Source: BMJ Journal of Medical Ethics

In Goop we trust?

Goop. The website for Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle company that offers odd, unusual, and probably useless ideas and products to solve all sort of health problems and even some problems that don’t even exist. Did you know you needed to be ‘grounded’ to neutralize your electrical charge? As some of Goop’s health advice sound increasingly outlandish we thought we’d give you a very brief roundup of what Goop is and is not.

Not familiar with Goop? Start with this piece from The Atlantic which gives you some insight into the company, the website, and about health journalism. The Guardian sent a reporter to cover the ‘In Goop Health’ expo where there were people paying up to $1500 USd to take in “Goop-approved matcha and coconut-water stalls” among other things. (there are more planned if you want to attend!). While The Guardian kept its journalism hat on, not so People magazine which embraced Goop’s $1300-Per-Couple Farm-to-Table Dinner Party. The advice handed out through the website and the Twitter account generally seem far-fetched and the consumer watchdog Truth in Advertising, wants Goop investigated for "unsubstantiated, and therefore deceptive, death and disease-treatment claims." It is interesting to note that the CBC story about Goop’s practices is in the Entertainment section of cbc.ca and not addressed in the health or news sections.

If you still are wondering about Goop’s ‘health’ advice here are The 23 Most Ridiculous Moments in Goop History, Ranked. Taking on Goop’s claims has comes from a variety of sources including Winnipeg-born Dr. Jen Gunter. She now practices medicine in the U.S. and blogs extensively about evidence based health information. That sometimes brings in direct opposition to Goop’s not-so-evidence-based health information and Dr. Gunter is not afraid to take it on.

Will Goop survive the building scrutiny and criticism? Gizmodo thinks that it may not.

And finally: What story on Goop would be complete without a reference to Tim Caulfield who wrote Is Gwyneth Paltrow wrong about everything? Tim is hosting the 6 part series “User's Guide to Cheating Death”, on Vision TV starting on September 18th.

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.

11th International Gender Summit

The Gender Summits are a series of interconnected, action-based events held across the globe since 2011. They follow the theme of “Quality Research and Innovation through Equality.” Their aim is to make gender equality in research and innovation the norm and to embed gender equality as a primary dimension of quality.

The agenda promises stimulating discussions on themes like the benefits of pluralism, Canada and its commitments to supporting diversity, diversity in an international context, diversity and leadership, perspectives from academia, society and grassroots approaches, and many more.

Members from industry, academia, research organizations, businesses, education, and other groups interested in gender equality issues are invited to follow the discussions and participate in the dialogue emerging from the Gender Summit North America 2017.

WHEN: November 6 - 8, 2017
WHERE: Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel, Montreal, Quebec

For more information, visit the GS11 website

SPARK 2017

Registration is now open for SPARK 2017, a clean technology/bioindustrial conference being co-hosted this fall by Emissions Reduction Alberta and Alberta Innovates. The event will provide an opportunity for innovators and researchers to connect with others in their field, and with purchasers, funders, innovation advisers, and industry groups and associations.

SPARK 2017 is expected to attract 400 or more attendees from the oil and gas, agriculture, forestry, clean technology and bioindustrial sectors. Conference sessions will cover a range of topics, including how Alberta is advancing technology through policy and regulation, how other jurisdictions have succeeded in advancing this area, innovators who have successfully accessed funding and what they learned, what the market is demanding today, and next-gen products and technologies.

When: November 6 - 8, 2017
Where: Shaw Conference Centre, Edmonton

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