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October 17, 2016


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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Big data tackles growing problem of drug resistance

Even if the term ‘big data’ has become an overused headline, the bottom line is that data needs to be analyzed, understood, and applied to solve problems. A consortium of researchers from McMaster University, University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and Dalhousie University, has received $500,000 in grants from Genome Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to develop big data solutions to the problem of antimicrobial drug resistance through the use of extensive DNA sequencing.
Source: Hamilton Spectator
Read more about other Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Competition results (pdf file) on the Genome Canada website.

Kevin Folta receives the Borlaug Council for Agricultural Science and Technology Communication Award

Recipients of CAST’s annual award are science and agricultural experts who have excelled at communication through written material, public presentations, and various forms of media.
Dr. Kevin Folta, chair of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, received the award on October 12th, during the Borlaug Dialogue/World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa. The award is dedicated to the memory and life-work of Nobel Peace Prize winner and World Food Prize founder, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, “The Man Who Fed the World.”
Source: Council for Agricultural Science and Technology

“CIMMYT 50” delegates tackle obstacles to achieving global food security

Scientific innovations alone won’t ensure food security but must be developed and deployed along with training, nutritional goals, and with public opinion in mind. Easier said than done when a climate-changed world is faced with 2 billion more people to feed by 2050. More than 500 international government officials, farmers, and members of the agricultural development sector met for 3 days in Mexico recently to talk about the challenges.
Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

Syrian seed bank gets new home away from war

There is a seed bank in Aleppo, Syria that may not survive the conflict. The seed bank is particularly important because it has been collecting seeds from the world’s driest regions and contains many wild relatives of modern crops. The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), which runs the bank in Aleppo, has launched a sister bank in Terbol, Lebanon, which now hosts 30,000 duplicates of the Aleppo collection.
Source: Nature

Women still struggle to make it to the top leadership posts in academe

There are more women than men enrolled in university undergraduate and master’s studies in Canada. By the time you hit the level of associate professor only 36% are women and only 22% are full professors. That doesn’t mean that’s the only way to measure gender parity in academia but overall the picture does not look good as the higher up the ranks you go the greater the gap. The article looks at the problem and looks on the problem as not a gender issue, but a “talent issue”.
Source: University Affairs

Why I believe in clinical genomics: A parent’s perspective

A first person story from a PhD who worked for the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and now works for Congenica a company formed out of some of the Wellcome Trust research. It is the kind of story to keep in mind when talking about the value of clinical genomics.
Source: Congenica

Genome sequence-based screening for childhood risk and newborn illness

The BabySeq Project: Genomic Sequencing for Childhood Risk and Newborn Illness is a randomized clinical trial designed to examine how best to use genomics in clinical pediatric medicine by creating and safely testing methods for integrating sequencing into the care of newborns.
Source: Genomes2People

Research cited by Trump on numbers of Canadian medical tourists criticized

There was lot going on in the Presidential Debate on October 9th but buried in the personal attacks was a statement by Donald Trump on the number of Canadians traveling to the U.S. for medical treatment. For all the bluster and playing loose with the facts, once Trump says something it is hard to correct it in the public’s mind. And as the at least one Canadian economist points out, do the actual numbers really change the issue.
Source: Globe & Mail

The concept of race lacks scientific support, Harvard professor says

Racial tension has become a major part of the U.S. Presidential Race but the science says that it may be real in the public’s mind – but not when it comes to biology.
Source: Toronto Star

Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

Genome editing – the key ethical issues

In our last newsletter we mentioned the new report on gene editing technologies by the Nuffield Council of Bioethics and now it is time to let the analysis begin.

First up we have this from the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford a quick overview of what the author calls a “good first step”. The Guardian picked up on parts of the report that talked about “garage biolgists” and the risk that poses to society. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry had something to say about how gene editing comes into play in their sector and concluded their was a greater need to engage diverse views and opinions on the use of gene editing tools. Seed Quest focused on the report’s top two challenges of gene editing for inherited genetic diseases, and increasing food production rates in farmed animals. The website SynBioWatch is skeptical of genetic technology in general but its message about “Unintended Consequences” will resonate with many people and will be a concern that industry and researchers need to be prepared for.

Across many of the articles we checked for this edition of trending news the BBC suggestion that the overall ethical issues 'should be discussed' was a common message. The technology may not be quite ready, but the public is ready to talk about it now.

A new gene-editing technique could help treat sickle cell anemia

Snip out the genetic mutation and replace it with healthy DNA. Easy. Not quite that easy and right now the success rate is low but we could see clinical trials in this decade.
Source: The Verge

Bypassing GMO regulations with CRISPR gene editing

The US Department of Agriculture recently announced that regulation of a CRISPR-Cas9 gene-edited mushroom fell outside of existing GMO-related legislation. There has always been a gap between regulations and technology but as genetic tools are advancing rapidly there are growing concerns about that gap.
Source: Nature (behind the paywall)

God and the genome: A geneticist seeks allies among the faithful

Does editing the human genome run contrary to beliefs that people are made in God’s image? Ting Wu is tackling the question at Harvard Medical School.
Source: STAT

Papers & Features Up arrow

A radical revision of human genetics

Hayden, E., Nature 538, 154–157 (13 October 2016) doi:10.1038/538154a

Lurking in the genes of the average person are about 54 mutations that could well sicken or even kill their bearer. But they don't. This article from Nature looks at why some of these are red herrings, and includes a podcast about the Exome Aggregation Consortium which is helping to spot the imposters.
Source: Nature

Conflicts between non-directive counseling and unbiased patient care: the influence of medical students’ personal beliefs on proposed Huntington’s Disease genetic testing recommendations

Mundluru, S.N., Therkelsen, K.E., Verscaj, C.P. et al. Med.Sci.Educ. (2016). doi:10.1007/s40670-016-0322-z

Non-directive counseling is a key component of physician-patient interactions, yet adequate education on this topic is limited in medical education. In this study, we examined whether students would have bias or instead would use non-directive counseling in the specific example of genetic testing for Huntington’s disease.
Source: Medical Science Educator

Biobank attributes associated with higher patient participation: a randomized study

Gayet-Ageron, A., Rudaz, S and Perneger, T., European Journal of Human Genetics , (5 October 2016) | doi:10.1038/ejhg.2016.132
The objectives of the study were to assess patients’ intent to participate in a hospital-based biobank and to explore the factors associated with higher participation. Biospecimen collection via oral swabbing, single chart review, and no follow-up were associated with higher participation.
Source: European Journal of Human Genetics

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.

2016 Till & McCulloch Meetings

The Till & McCulloch Meetings are Canada’s premier stem cell research event and are an opportunity for you to meet and network with Canada’s leading stem cell scientists, clinicians, bio-engineers and ethicists, as well as representatives from industry, government, health and NGO sectors from around the world.

The 2016 Till & McCulloch Meetings are presented by CCRM, the Stem Cell Network and the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Online registration for this event is now closed, however people interested in attending the 2016 Till & McCulloch Meetings can still register on-site at the Registration Desk on Oct. 24. If you have any questions, please contact the event planner directly.

When: Monday, October 24 – 26, 2016
Where: Whistler Conference Centre, Whistler, BC

The Genomics Revolution and its Impact on Human Kind

The 2016 Don Rix Distinguished Keynote Address will be presented by Richard Resnick on October 25 at 4:00 in the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Dr. Resnick is CEO of GenomeQuest, a maker of genomic software. Under his direction the company has solidified their leadership position in the intellectual property and agriculture markets and he has led its expansion into healthcare. Resnick has extensive experience building and growing innovative technology companies in life sciences.

When: October 25, 2016 4:00pm
Where: Vancouver Convention Centre

The event is sponsored by Genome British Columbia and you can find more information and register free of charge on the Genome BC website.

Canadian Science Policy Conference

The annual CSPC is back in Ottawa in November and is one of the best opportunities to hear about new developments in science policy in Canada and discuss the current and future state of science with your colleagues. The CSPC has become Canada’s most comprehensive, multi-sectorial and multi-disciplinary annual science policy forum and attracted numerous politicians and hundreds of professionals from industry, academia, the non-profit sector, federal and provincial governments every year.

When: November 8th – 10th
Where: Shaw Centre, Ottawa

For more information go to cspc2016.ca

Celebrating Women in Technology

Geeky Summit is the biggest celebration of women in technology and entrepreneurship in Western Canada. Chic Geek envisions more women as makers, builders and creators, leveraging technology to change the world. Geeky Summit will bring together inspirational speakers from across North America and provide hands-on, practical workshops so attendees can walk away with the motivation and tools to start changing the world through technology.

When: November 16, 2016
Where: Telus Spark, 220 St Georges Dr. NE, Calgary, AB

More information and details for registration can be found here.

Communicating Public Health Information

Join Canada’s leading health practitioners, communicators, advocates, analysts, and researchers, as they share the latest intelligence and approaches that:
  • Demonstrate how risk prevention and harm reduction increases positive public health outcomes – and saves lives
  • Raise public awareness, stakeholder engagement and government support
  • Conserve scarce public service resources and decrease public expenditure on chronic public health issues and crises
  • Improve public safety and aid at-risk communities

When: December 7 - 8, 2016
Where: Mariott Bloor Yorkville, Toronto, Ontario

For full details of the two-day Agenda and how to register, click here. (pdf file)

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