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November 19, 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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Dr. Ed McCauley to be next president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary

Genome Alberta Board member and VP Research at the University of Calgary, Dr. Ed McCauley, is the new president and vice chancellor at the University. He is the institution’s 9th president and will replace outgoing president Elizabeth Cannon as of January 1st, 2019.

Originally from Ottawa, he arrived at the U of C in 1985, serving as a professor in biological sciences and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair until 2009. He then relocated to the University of California, Santa Barbara to take on a professorship in ecology and evolutionary biology, and the role of director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. McCauley returned to UCalgary in 2011 as vice-president (research), guiding strategic research initiatives and creating support systems to enable the university to progress on the national and international stage.

Genome Alberta congratulates Ed on his appointment and look forward to continuing our work with him and with his successor in the vp research role.

Read more on our website.

New Discovery: A built-in killer switch eliminates dividing cells from lab-grown transplant tissue to improve patient safety

By their very design, cells can divide, and divide again. And they can mutate, which means that new cell therapies have the potential to go awry. Researchers at in the Sinai Health System’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto may be a step ahead of any potential problems by developing a ‘kill switch’ to reduce the risk.
Source: Sinai Health System and the paper in Nature

How Frankenstein and 200 years of horror stories have haunted the biotechnology revolution

It was fitting that this article was posted on the day before Halloween. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often considered to be the first science-fiction novel because it is science – not magic – that is behind the story. Flawed science perhaps, but at the time it was all about science as Ms. Shelley saw it, and not fantasy. Too bad today’s science is not as important when it comes to scare-mongering today.
Source: Genetic Literacy Project

‘Why not sequence everything?’ A plan to decode every complex species on Earth

It took more than a decade and a billion dollars to complete the human genome and today it one take a few days and a few thousand dollars, so why not sequence everything? 1.5 million genomes over 10 years should about do it.
Source: Nature

Evidence for Democracy dropping the term “fake news”

The term “fake news” is a misnomer. News by definition is true. However it can be subject to misinterpretation, and mistakes can be made. But if it is fake, it is not news. Evidence for Democracy is not the first organization to quit using the term and will not be the last. Good op-ed from Katie Gibbs, executive director of Evidence for Democracy.
Source: The Star

The to-do list for ‘clean’ meat

Synthetic meat, fake meat, lab-grown meat, protein, or whatever else marketers, lobbyists, or advocacy groups come up with there is more to the future of meat than just what is in the names. Scaling up to make it safe and sustainable are also high on the to-do list.
Source: Chemical & Engineering News

WATCH: Misconceptions frustrating stem cell appeal, family of Filipino teen says

We have been watching the story of a Canadian teen who needs to find a stem cell match to deal with two life threatening blood diseases. As her family reaches out to the wider community to find a suitable donor, misunderstanding of what it means to be a donor is getting in the way of the search.
Source: CTV

AAAS Award winners

The 2018 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards have been announced and we are pleased to see Sarah Zhang receive a Silver Award for her writing in The Atlantic. We often include her stories in our newsletters or daily headline packages as she is one of the top science journalists working in the mainstream media today. There are many excellent writers in the list and we encourage you to not only see who won the top honours and read their winning stories, but follow them in the future.
Source: AAAS

Vaccinating against superbugs

Stories about antimicrobial resistance and superbugs can often leave you feeling deflated, but take heart there are some answers. Along with the research and development of new drugs, there are vaccines that could help reduce the need for antibiotics. Seth Berkley of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and Jeremy Farrar from the Wellcome Trust, say that we are not taking full advantage of vaccines’ effectiveness.
Source: Project Syndicate

What my hate mail reveals about growing public distrust

Hate mail is not new. The advent of instant forms of electronic hate mail has definitely raised the stakes, but the attitudes are surprisingly consistent. “U of A health law expert Timothy Caulfield and colleague Alessandro Marcon examined hate mail to find the common themes that emerged. Here’s what they found.”
Source: U of A Folio

Mosquito genome opens new avenues for reducing bug-borne disease

At last, the pesky mosquito has given up some of its deepest secrets. But it can be more than just a pest, Aedes aegypti can carry Zika, dengue, and yellow fever, and spread those diseases across wide areas and populations. With the genome in hand, researchers hope to find more effective ways to combat the disease-carrying insect.
Source: Phys.Org and Nature

Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

The Genetic Revolution

Whether you agree or disagree with his environmental messages, David Suzuki started his career as a geneticist and was successful in that career. In a recent episode of the Nature of Things he went back to his science roots and explored the new technologies changing the face of genetics. The 44-minute feature starts off with the story of Ben Dupree , young Texan suffering from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. With stops in China, New York, and California, the production focuses on CRISPR as a tool to cure and to potentially lead us down paths society may not want to follow. Many video documentaries we would like to include in our newsletters are not available in Canada but this time we are pleased to say ‘only in Canada you say’. Hurray.

Moths and magnets deliver CRISPR to fix defective genes

Researchers have combined magnetic nanoparticles with a viral container drawn from a particular species of moth to deliver CRISPR/Cas9 payloads that modify genes in a specific tissue or organ with spatial control. Because magnetic fields are simple to manipulate and, unlike light, pass easily through tissue, researchers want to use them to control the expression of viral payloads in target tissues by activating the virus that is otherwise inactivated in blood. As reported in Nature Biomedical Engineering, the new delivery vehicle is based on a virus that infects Autographa californica, aka the alfalfa looper, a moth native to North America.
Source: Futurty

Papers & Features Up arrow

Observed and predicted effects of climate change on Arctic caribou and reindeer

Mallory, Conor D., et al. Environmental Reviews, (2018) doi: 10.1139/er-2017-0032

While caribou and reindeer could have some resilience to climate change, current global trends in abundance undermine all but the most precautionary outlooks." The paper examines the literature to asses the environmental factors that limit caribou and reindeer populations, and how these might be affected by a warming climate.

Linking a cell-division gene and a suicide gene to define and improve cell therapy safety

Liang, Q, et al. Nature (2018) doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0733-7

Human pluripotent cell lines hold enormous promise for the development of cell-based therapies. Safety, however, is a crucial prerequisite condition for clinical applications. Numerous groups have attempted to eliminate potentially harmful cells through the use of suicide genes1, but none has quantitatively defined the safety level of transplant therapies. Here, using genome-engineering strategies, we demonstrate the protection of a suicide system from inactivation in dividing cells. Even with the highly conservative estimates described here, we anticipate that our solution will rapidly accelerate the entry of cell-based medicine into the clinic.

Improved reference genome of Aedes aegypti informs arbovirus vector control

Matthews, B.J., et al. Nature (2018) doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0692-z

Female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infect more than 400 million people each year with dangerous viral pathogens including dengue, yellow fever, Zika and chikungunya. Progress in understanding the biology of mosquitoes and developing the tools to fight them has been slowed by the lack of a high-quality genome assembly. Here we combine diverse technologies to produce the markedly improved, fully re-annotated AaegL5 genome assembly, and demonstrate how it accelerates mosquito science. 

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.

Health Economics Educational Workshop - Calgary

The Institute of Health Economics is offering an educational workshop - provided without charge to Alberta companies - to support both early and late stage organizations in developing an understanding of when, where, and how health economics can be used to strengthen product and business planning, and satisfy requirements of purchasers of technology.

Early stage organizations will benefit by understanding how economic evaluation can determine the ‘innovation headroom’ available and the commercial viability of their technology.  Later stage organizations will benefit by understanding how economic analysis serves to robustly document the value proposition of their technology to health systems.

A case-based approach will be used to highlight how those that pay for products make purchase decisions (in Alberta and other major global markets), and how health economics can be used to improve commercialization success for both early and later stage companies.

When: Friday, November 23, 2018, 8:00 am - 4:30 pm
Where: University of Calgary, Health Sciences Building, Room 01509, Calgary

Continental breakfast and lunch will be provided.

Course details available here.

Keeping up with the Speed of Disruption

The Public Policy Forum’s professional development seminar series Keeping Up With the Speed of Disruption is being offered again. The series is for executives, policy directors, and practice leads who seek a better understanding of digital government trends and digital-era governance challenges.

This series of learning modules provides a deep dive into a selection of emerging technologies, likely areas of disruption and impact, and an exploration of how governments around the world are reacting – or not – to a quickly shifting technological landscape. For each session, the common threads of information security, privacy, ethics, regulatory implications and sustainability will be explored.

The first session, titled The New Biology, explores the technologies that are changing the way we interact with biological information and biological systems.

One of the featured presenters is PPF Fellow Rob Annan, Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications at Genome Canada.

The cost for this series starts at $2,250. For more information and registration, visit the PPF website.

2019 AAAS Annual Meeting

Science transcending boundaries: The 2019 AAAS annual meeting theme explores ways science is bringing together people, ideas, and solutions from across real and artificial borders, disciplines, sectors, ideologies, and traditions.

When: February 11-14, 2019
Where: Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, DC

For registration and information, visit the AAAS Annual Meeting website.

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