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November 15, 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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Genetic test costs taxpayers $500 million a year, with little to show for it

Under the section of Things We Do For No Reason, the Journal of Hospital Medicine published a paper saying half a billion dollars is being spent on tests for venous thromboembolisms that do nothing to help hospital patients. In other words, the authors say, ordering the testing on inpatients is something doctors do for little or no reason.
Source: STAT

Young scientists ditch postdocs for biotech start-ups

With more money being invested in biotech start-ups, and academic research funding becoming more difficult to secure what is a clever young scientist to do? Opt for the private sector of course:
Source: Nature

Three stories give us a glimpse of the real possibilities for stem cell therapies

One-stop-shop for stem cell treatments are a dream and at times are also unfortunately a scam. However the value and technology of stem cell treatments are real as Lisa Willemse write about from her time at the recent Till and McCulloch Stem Cell Meetings.
Source: OIRM

Will babies be better off if we know their genes?

An ongoing clinical trial at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital, called BabySeq, is trying to untangle some basic questions about the benefits and harms of gene sequencing. This article asks if Should we sequence the DNA of healthy newborn babies?
Source: Washington Post

How Ebola adapted to us

Mark December 2013 on your calendar as a turning point in the spread of Ebola. All indications are that was when the virus left its traditional host and infected a young boy in Guinea. The virus spread rapidly because it seems to have been able to quickly adapt to its new hosts. As always, science journalist Ed Yong give you a thoughtful and informative article.
Source: The Atlantic

Also from The Atlantic you should read how the dairy industry lost million from a flaw in a single bull.

Bob Dylan won. But in science the times they aren’t a changin’

The Nobel Prize Committee surprised everyone when a singer-songwriter was given the Nobel Prize for Literature. On the science side however, this writer (also a Dylan fan) says limited categories, under-representation of women, and little acknowledgement of the way modern science is conducted means we are not likely to see the other Nobel Prizes shaken up in the same way.
Source: NY Times

Genetics startup Genos wants to pay you for your DNA data

Billions of dollars were spent to get science to the point of being able to sequence whole genomes. Now a San Francisco based company wants to pay you for your genetic information each time they access it. Exactly how much they will pay and how the process will work is still not clear and the company’s website is talking about a fall launch. However it is starting whole exome sequencing testing services now.
Source: TechCrunch

WATCH: Understanding GMO: The journey begins

This crowd funded documentary is in English and Chinese but with subtitles will give you plenty of information with a unique perspective. A group of Chinese students studying abroad spent 6 months visiting 8 cities interviewing researchers, farmers, social activist, consumers, and government officials to try to understand all the issues around GMOs, the science, and the perceptions. It will use up an hour of your day, but we think you will find it an hour well spent.
Source: YouTube

Embryonic stem cells, fetal tissue research and the future of science under Donald J. Trump.

And that dear readers is but the tip of the post-election science reaction which needless to say is a trending story for weeks, if not years, to come. We’ll give you a few of the highlights over the next few issues of our newsletter so let’s start by diving in deep.

George W Bush restricted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, Barrack Obama loosened the restrictions, and it remains to be seen what’s next. What will soon-to-be President Trump do asks AAAS Science, and in much the same vein bioethics.net says that bioethics faces a rocky but navigable road. But those are mere details in what is to come over the next 4 years.

We will surely hear more on such specific issues once we get closer to Inauguration Day so we should start to tackle the bigger picture of the Trump/Pence team with a not overly optimistic image from the Washington Post. CBC Radio host Bob MacDonald echoes the sentiments in a blog post and in particular notes concerns over Trump’s anti-vaccine and climate change hoax views that will influence policy and shape public perception as well. The President Elect’s views of climate science seems to be particularly worrisome for many and Scientific American said the economy, the research, and the planet are all at risk because of it.

Apart from science research, Trump’s decisions will reach out into the broader tech world (or ‘the cyber’ as Trump called it during one of the debates) and Ars Technica says even net neutrality could be at stake. This article from PBS goes into more depth and looks at how the new administration’s policy will affect science, technology, and health at home and abroad ( which Tech Crunch called a shadow of despair). As a world leader in science research and funding, the U.S. will not just be charting its own course for science but is in a position to shape the world’s science landscape says Vox.

In the end however, science was never something that Trump discussed during his campaign and Nature says the Trump effect may simply be unknown – the ultimate experiment. BBC however set out to find clues that might relate to science policy.

There will be more to come in future newsletters but for the moment we will leave you with Canadian science fiction writer and journalist Cory Doctorow’s outline of Trump’s war on science over the campaign trail. Stay tuned….

Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

There’s no need to fear gene-edited food

With the release of a new non-browning mushroom developed using gene editing technology, a few eyebrows were raised when the U.S. Department of Agriculture said gene editing did not fall within USDA’s regulatory controls. This article says we should push for “informed science-based evaluation”. We’ve seen how well that idea has worked in the GMO discussions.
Source: Popular Science

Plant-genome hackers seek better ways to produce customized crops

More efficient water use, better crop productivity, and less need for fertilizer are just some of the objectives when it come to improving plant genetics. Gene editing technology is being held out as the best way to realize these goals but we are not quite there yet.
Source: Nature

Oral arguments for who owns CRISPR-Cas9 start next month

Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna and her colleague from the Max Planck Institute Emmanuelle Charpentier head to court on December 6th to face off against MIT’s Feng Zhang and present their argument before three US Patent and Trademark Office judges on why they, not Zhang, deserve the to own the patent that potentially holds the key to eradicating all inherited diseases.
Source: TechCrunch

Papers & Features Up arrow

Beyond our borders? Public resistance to global genomic data sharing

Majumder MA, Cook-Deegan R, McGuire AL (2016) PLoS Biol 14(11): e2000206. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2000206

Prospects have never seemed better for a truly global approach to science to improve human health, with leaders of national initiatives laying out their vision of a worldwide network of related projects. An extensive literature addresses obstacles to global genomic data sharing, yet a series of public polls suggests that the scientific community may be overlooking a significant barrier: potential public resistance to data sharing across national borders.
Source: PLOS Biology

Content analysis of informed consent for whole genome sequencing offered by direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies.

Niemiec E, Borry P, Pinxten W, Howard HC. Hum Mutat. 2016 Oct 5. doi: 10.1002/humu.23122. [Epub ahead of print]

Whole exome sequencing (WES) and whole genome sequencing (WGS) have become increasingly available in the research and clinical settings and are now also being offered by direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing (GT) companies. This offer can be perceived as amplifying the already identified concerns regarding adequacy of informed consent (IC) for both WES/WGS and the DTC GT context.
Source: Human Mutation

Ethical, legal, and social implications of personalized genomic medicine research: Current literature and suggestions for the future

Callier, S. L., Abudu, R., Mehlman, M. J., Singer, M. E., Neuhauser, D., Caga-Anan, C. and Wiesner, G. L. (2016), Bioethics, 30: 698–705. doi:10.1111/bioe.12285

This review identifies the prominent topics in the literature pertaining to the ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) raised by research investigating personalized genomic medicine (PGM).
Source: Bioethics

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.

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)

Precision Medicine World Conference

Recognized as a vital cornerstone for all constituents of the health care and biotechnology community, PMWC provides an exceptional forum for the exchange of information about the latest advances in technology (e.g. DNA sequencing technology), in clinical implementation (e.g. cancer and beyond), research, and in all aspects related to the regulatory and reimbursement sectors.

When: January 23-25, 2017
Where: Computer History Museum, Silicon Valley California

Conference details and registration

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