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December 17, 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.

We're currently adjusting subscriber settings, please visit the subscription page to update your settings anytime.


Times are a' changing

A few changes are appearing in our newsletters. Instead of Genomics in Society and GenOmics each coming out every 2 weeks, we are going to an alternating schedule. Starting with this issue, Genomics in Society will be in your Inbox around the middle of the month and GenOmics will arrive at the beginning of the month. We will also be adjusting the content to make it more relevant and adding a couple of new sections over the coming issues. There will be a special year-ender covering both newsletters, and after that we will settle into the new schedule.

In the meantime you can help us be ensuring that info@genomealberta.ca is whitelisted in your email. We would also appreciate hearing from you about what content you would most like to see by sending a note to Mike Spear, Genome Alberta’s Communications Director.

Recent Appointments

Genome Quebec - Serge Marchand as Vice President, Scientific Affairs

Ontario Genomics - Nezar Rghei as Vice President Strategic Partnerships & Resource Development, and Filippo Miglior as Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sector Innovation and Programs.

Review of controls for certain emerging technologies

A recent posting in the U.S. Federal Register may have significant implications for synthetic biology, genetic engineering, nanobiology, and a host of other new technologies. The posting is from the Bureau of Industry and Security which controls the export of dual-use and less sensitive military items through the Export Administration Regulations. As many of the ‘omics related technologies are relatively new they are only now receiving close scrutiny. There does not appear to be anything imminent but it is worth keeping at eye on developments.

The posting went up in mid-November and closes on December 19.

Federal minister Navdeep Bains says Canada’s health sciences industry falling off the pace

While in Vancouver for the Life Science BC’s Investor Summit, the federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development called on Canada’s health sciences industry to invest in innovation in order for the country to be a global competitor. He also discussed recommendations of a new report on Canada’s health and biosciences industry which said Canada ranks fourth in global health and biosciences hubs, according to measures identified by the U.K. BioIndustry Association.
Source: The Star and Report of Canada’s Economic Strategy Tables: Health and Biosciences

Genome Atlantic helps the effort to save farmed Atlantic salmon from climate change

Mitigating the Impact of Climate-Related Challenges on Salmon Aquaculture (MICCSA) is a $4.4 million Atlantic regional research project that Genome Atlantic helped create. The project is co-led by researchers at Memorial University and the University of Prince Edward Island and was announced last year. The project is using genomics and genetic sequencing to provide the east coast salmon aquaculture industry with tools and knowledge that can be used to adapt its production to rising ocean temperatures and to select more disease-resistant broodstock.
Source: Emergence and Genome Atlantic

Building vaccine confidence in the era of fake news

The Canadian Vaccination Evidence Resource and Exchange Centre (CANVax) is a new online immunization resource site developed by the Canadian Public Health Association. It offers a variety of resource including its Emerging Trends podcast. In this initial episode, Tim Caulfield discusses the challenges and opportunities for strengthening immunization promotion and building vaccine confidence in an era of fake news.
Source: CANVax Emerging Topics

First jellyfish genome reveals ancient beginnings of complex body plan

The jellyfish is a tentacled shape shifter that has been around for 500 million years. The genome of the Aurelia aurita was published earlier this month in Nature Ecology and Evolution. (Moon jellyfish in the Pairi Daiza aquarium in Belgium. Because of the lighting, the organism in shown in false colour. Wikimedia Commons image by Luc Viatour https://Lucnix.be)
Source: PhysOrg and Nature Ecology & Evolution

Secret Ingredients’ review: A menu of deceit

Secret Ingredients is a new film about the “secret ingredients” in our food that are responsible for most everything that ails you from allergies to cancer to obesity, and of course that all important “brain fog”. You are probably already forming an opinion about the content and an image of the production. This review by Tim Durham will save you the trouble of watching.
Source: Ag Daily

U of T researchers publish long-awaited cannabis genome map

Research at the University of Toronto have sorted out how hemp and cannabis have evolved in different directions, despite both belonging to the Cannabis sativa species. First there was the ancient colonization of the plant’s genome by viruses and then eventually people helped foster the changes through selective breeding.
Source: University of Toronto News and Genome Research

Survey shows growing distrust of GMO safety

A Pew Research Center survey has show a sharp jump in the negative opinions of genetical modified foods. “49 percent of respondents viewed such foods as less healthful than those without genetically engineered ingredients, up from 39 percent” two years ago. The gap was even higher among those the survey identified as having “low science knowledge”.
Source: Capital Press and Pew Research Center

How to feed the world sustainably? Grow more with less, new study finds

The World Resource Institute has released a new report on “Creating a Sustainable Future”. The Institute’s Vice President for Science and Research feels that it is a crucial report because “Food is the mother of all sustainability challenges”. While there is a lot of work to be done to create a reliable, long term global food supply the report does conclude that it is “doable”.
Source: Forbes

What a newfound kingdom means for the tree of life

The hemimastigote is a strange microbe that was recently discovered in a lump of Nova Scotian soil. DNA analysis raised a lot of questions as it appears to be neither animal, plant, fungus, or any known protozoan. Perhaps the biggest question “how”. How has it stayed hidden and how many more new species or classes are there?
Source: Quanta Magazine

Fetal tissue research is curtailed by Trump administration

Scientists say research that uses tissue from aborted fetuses has saved millions of lives by producing treatments for HIV and vaccines for many other diseases. The Trump administration is putting limits on this research.
Source: New York Times

Job Opportunity

Genome BC - Sector Manager, Health
Reporting to the Sector Director, Health, the Manager is one of the main points of contact at Genome BC for funded project teams and is responsible for monitoring projects to assess progress and maximize outcomes. The position engages external stakeholders to create partnerships across the research and healthcare ecosystem in BC. If you have a background in life sciences with a broad knowledge of molecular biology and genetics you should apply by January 7th.

Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

Gene editing controversy

One of the technologies that will most certainly face scrutiny in any ‘emerging technology’ discussion or regulation will be gene editing. In late November, headlines like this one from Nature "Genome-edited baby claim provokes international outcry” were saturating the media.

The MIT Technology Review seems to have led the pack with a story they referred to as an “exclusive” look at the Chinese effort to create “CRISPR babies”. The initial version hinted at what was about to happen, then on Sunday the 25th, the Review added a link to the first Associated Press story and to He Jiankui's own promotional video, also posted on the 25th.

The early stories tended to focus on what actually happened and many digital and mainstream outlets such as the Washington Post’s Quick Take had good ‘explainers’ about the technology.

But the discussion quickly turned to the ethical implications. Exactly why are scientists upset asked the New York Times, which also turned to young people for an answer in a Student Opinion editorial. If you have full access AAAS Science uses its In Depth feature to look at “What now for human genome editing?”. Knee jerk reaction to the developments may hold back many aspects of research speculates Nature and temporarily at least China has stopped gene editing research. However at the International Summit on Human Genome Editing the idea of a moratorium was rejected as you’ll hear in this audio podcast from NPR.

Despite the concerns over how the ‘designer babies’ bypassed bioethical rules, it is not likely to become common in the near future says an editorial this week in The Conversation.

We’ll leave you with another audio podcast from Radio New Zealand that will require you to set aside about an hour of your holiday time. A panel discussion on gene editing, ethics, and whether you should do something just because you can crosses disciplines and will take you through the ethical layers of the technology.

Papers & Features Up arrow

Measuring public preferences for health outcomes and expenditures in a context of healthcare resource re-allocation

Krucien, N., et al. PharmacoEconomics (2018). DOI: doi.org/10.1007/s40273-018-0751-1

The final outcome of any resource allocation decision in healthcare cannot be determined in advance. Decision makers, need to accommodate the uncertainty of different potential outcomes (i.e., change in both health and costs) that can occur, the size and nature (i.e., ‘bad’ or ‘good’) of these outcomes, and how they are being valued. This paper describes the development of a tool which could lead to determining the preferences of the public for potential outcomes stemming from re-allocation of healthcare resources.
Source: PharmacoEconomics

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.

International Plant & Animal Genome XXVII

PAG brings together over 3,000 leading genetic scientists and researchers in plant and animal research, and over 130 exhibits, 150 workshops, 1100 posters and over 1800 abstracts. And better yet it happens in warm and sunny San Diego!

Canada’s Genomics Enterprise will be there and we hope to see there.

When: January 12th – 16th
Where: Town and Country Hotel, San Diego

More details available at the conference 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.

2nd Annual Canada SynBio conference

The 2nd Annual Canada SynBio conference is focused on accelerating the growth and success of Canada’s Engineering Biology community. Genome Alberta is pleased to be one of the event partners.

  • Learn about emerging developments, opportunities and plans.
  • Connect and network with leading investors, policymakers, scientists, and entrepreneurs from around the world.
  • Share ideas around issues of importance to the engineering biology community.

 Keynote speaker: George Church, Ph.D., Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Director of PersonalGenomes.org

Pitch competition: Startup pitch competition for $35k in prizes to be awarded.

When: March 6 & 7, 2019
Where: MaRS Discovery District, Toronto, ON

More information, registration and accommodations are available online. Special early pricing available before February 1, 2019

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