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February 1, 2019

Volume 37 Issue 2


Welcome to GenOmics!

We cover the latest Genomics news that matters most to Alberta, Canada and the World. The Genome Alberta newsletter for the Omics Generation

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In This Issue
Genomics Enterprise News Up arrow

We feature stories that we think will be relevant to Canadian genomics community. If you have anything you’d like to see highlighted here, drop a note to info@genomealberta.ca.

U of A students create probiotic to help honeybees fight deadly fungus

An Alberta-based project for the 2018 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition has resulted in a product which beekeepers can use to help honeybees ward off a serious fungal infection. The project won first prize and a gold medal in the food and nutrition category at last year’s iGEM competition in Boston and the students were able to showcase that success to the Alberta Beekeeping Commission recently. They now have enough beekeepers interested to start conducting field trials. Read more about the initiative in the University of Alberta’s Folio and be sure to find time to learn more about the latest developments in synthetic biology by attending the 2nd annual SynBio Conference in Toronto.

See the details below in our Events section.

Genomics Enterprise supported study find genes related to risk

When Tom Cruise entered into a dodgy deal in the movie Risky Business, he may have been able to blame his genetics for the resulting predicament. With funding from Genome Canada, Ontario Genomics Institute, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and other participants, an international research team has identified genetic variants associated with willingness to take risks. Like most other variants it is not a simple on-off switch but a host of differences that affect risk tolerance. Jonathan Beauchamp from the University of Toronto was among the authors of the study and you can read more on the U of T website and check the paper in Nature Genetics.

Simple saliva test could predict breast-cancer risk

With funding from Génome Québec, Genome Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation, the Ontario Research Fund and other partners, a simple saliva test may be able to gauge a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers from Université Laval and the CHU de Québec-Université Laval Research Center were part of the team which had its results published this month in Genetics in Medicine.

PED found in Alberta

The Alberta Pork Producers Development Corporation says the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus has been found at a 400-head hog operation in the province. The first case of the virus in Canada was confirmed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in 2014 on a swine farm in Ontario and has been spreading slowly since then. The disease is fatal in pigs but is not transmitted to people. One of our bloggers, Geoff Geddes was at the Annual Pork Seminar held in Banff earlier this month and filed a special report for us. You can keep up with the latest on the disease on the Alberta Pork website.

Genome BC appoints new Executive Director, Corporate Development

Quinn Newcomb has joined Genome BC as Executive Director, Corporate Development. This role works closely with other members of the management team on delivering cross-functional programs and initiatives, building relationships with key stakeholders, including government, and taking the lead on emerging opportunities.

Read more from Genome BC

Career Opportunity

Lead, Knowledge and Research Exchange, MaRS Centre, Toronto

The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research is seeking a Knowledge and Research Exchange Lead to lead the coordination, management and execution of the Canadian Bioinformatics Workshop series and bioinformatics.ca, Canada’s national bioinformatics training initiative. The ideal candidate should have a PhD and CIHR, Genome Canada and/or NSERC grant writing knowledge and experience.

Click on over to the OICR website for more information.

Trending Stories Up arrow

Here is what trended online and in print with our science community over the last 2 weeks. These are not ‘official’ trends but are based on the stories we see most often in our media monitoring reports and our social media reports.

Feel free to offer some feedback on the story selection, and follow us on Twitter to keep current with buzzing science conversations.

Extreme opponents of genetically modified foods know the least but think they know the most

This story garnered a number of headlines and some strong buzz on social media. The paper which attracted the attention of mainstream media was in Nature: Human Behaviour and included a Canadian contribution from co-author Yoel Inbar at the University of Toronto.

2,000 U.S. and European adults were surveyed said the National Post, and the results suggest that the more strongly people oppose genetically modified foods, the more knowledgeable they thought they were on the topic even though knowledge tests indicated weak understanding. Similar results were found for gene therapy but not for climate change deniers.

The Guardian quoted a lecturer from Reading University who pointed out the effect “also figures into the debates on global warming and makes correcting erroneous beliefs highly challenging.” The article also links the pattern of behaviour to the Dunning Kruger effect and the Neurologica blog explores the effect in more detail. To round out some coverage highlights, you should read the initial press release from the University of Colorado which includes a short video clip from one of the study’s author, or Arstechnica which went with the subheading “When Dunning met Kruger”.

Not surprisingly GMO critics too some offense at the study’s conclusions and to related articles. “Are GM food opponents stupid?”, from GMWatch is a case in point. Apart from challenging the basic science which says GMO food is safe the folks at GMWatch did not like an article in Fudzilla which started off with the line, “A team of boffins has been researching why idiots on the internet hold the most extreme views”. Not the best way to try to build consensus.

Theranos update

Not an update on the status of the disgraced start-up Theranos, but the saga continues in a new documentary by Academy and Emmy award winner Alex Gibney. The HBO production Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley premiered at the Sundance Music Festival last week. Read more about it in the Washington Post or USA Today.

Alberta Epigenetics Network News Up arrow

Excessive drinking induces epigenetic changes

"We found that people who drink heavily may be changing their DNA in a way that makes them crave alcohol even more," say the authors of a study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. The study by researchers at Rutgers and Yale University focused on POMC and PER2 genes.

The findings may help explain the addictiveness of alcohol, and perhaps lead to identifying biomarkers to predict heavy drinkers.

Epigenetic repression of genes can treat Down Syndrome

Down syndrome (DS) has a profound social and financial impact. Caused by a trisomy in chromosome 21, children with DS are social, but with varying levels of cognitive disability, higher risk of congenital heart diseases, infections, immune defects, metabolic and Alzheimer disease, and leukemia. A new study published in Nature recently investigated if trisomy silencing through epigenetic repression (altered expression) of one extra chromosome will normalize or remove defects in cell function of DS patients. The study could achieve Trisomy silencing through a XIST-induced expression from one chromosome 21 and correct the hematopoietic cell pathologies of DS.

This is promising as it opens the potential to treat developmental diseases through epigenetic regulation of genes (e.g. by XIST-induced trisomy silencing).

It may be possible to restore memory function in Alzheimer's, preclinical study finds

Researchers have found that by focusing on gene changes caused by influences other than DNA sequences it was possible to reverse memory decline in an animal model of Alzheimer’s Disease. The research was conducted on mouse models carrying gene mutations for familial AD and on post-mortem brain tissues from AD patients.

The work was led by researchers at the University of Buffalo and the study was published in the journal Brain.

From our blog pages

We have 4 new blogs posted since the last newsletter:

Genomics in Society Up arrow

To get your latest full version of Genomics in Society news, visit genomealberta.ca/newsletters.
You can subscribe to receive your monthly edition direct to your email, cancel a subscription, and view all of our back issues.

Canada, EU, and Africa combine to allow researchers to analyze health data on the largest, most diverse scale

Led by the Canadian Centre for Computational Genomics a new collaboration of African, Canadian, and EU researchers have come together to help in the understanding of rare diseases. Analyzing diverse and varied data spread around the world is a challenge when rare symptoms are presented to clinicians. The Common Infrastructure for National Cohorts in Europe, Canada, and Africa project or CINECA will create the infrastructure for access to distributed data sets covering an estimated 1.4 million individuals.

Elephants are evolving to be tuskless after decades of poaching pressure

Genetic selection is helping to foil poaching by causing more baby elephants to be born without tusks. That does not mean the elephant population is suddenly going to recover or that life will be easier without tusks because tusks are important in foraging. Right now, Mozambique is the area getting the most study and females are the only individuals most likely to be born tuskless. The CBC Quirks & Quarks story includes a 9:00 audio interview with a behavioural ecologist working in Goronbosa National Park in Mozambique.

Maternal instincts don’t explain the gender gap on GM foods

Women tend to be more skeptical than men when it comes genetically modified foods. Research bears that out but it has nothing to do with maternal instincts. It all has to do with risk assessment, general orientation towards science, and men and women approach political issues. The authors of the Social Science Journal study teased out information from a 2014 Pew Research Center Survey.
Source: NC State University

Events Up arrow

Genome Alberta has an extensive Events Calendar on our website. Visit GenomeAlberta.ca to see all the events, and sign up for our newsletters while you're there!

4th Annual Genome Editing & Engineering Conference

Genome editing has witnessed some great breakthroughs during the past year in the areas like genome writing, base editing and specific progression in the field of therapeutics through the Car-T cells and immunotherapy. It has also been confront3d with some significant ethical issues.

When: February 7-8, 2019
Where: San Diego, California

Learn more and register at the conference website.

Are Bees Really Dying?

Dr. Leonard Foster is a Canada Research Chair in Quantitative Proteomics, and recipient of the 2017 Genome BC Award for Scientific Excellence. His research identifies disease resistance genes in bees and covers such topics as pathogen invasion, infection and the mapping of protein interactions.

His objective is to reverse the decline of honeybee numbers and build genetic traits that make them more resistant to disease. Dr. Foster works with beekeepers, economists and biologists across North America and Europe to eradicate the diseases plaguing honeybees.

The talk will be followed by a moderated question and answer period open to everyone in attendance.

When: February 20, 2019
Where: John M.S. Lecky UBC Boathouse, Richmond, BC

Visit the website for more information & registration

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

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

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

14th Annual Genomics of Energy & Environment

The DOE Joint Genome Institute Annual Genomics of Energy & Environment User Meeting provides current and prospective users of JGI resources an opportunity to learn about the full spectrum of the JGI’s capabilities as well as to hear from a diverse selection of researchers who are applying the latest omics strategies to advance innovative science.

The User Meeting is a productive forum for developing large-scale interdisciplinary initiatives, establishing collaborative partnerships and exploring new career opportunities. The JGI Annual Meeting will be preceded by a series of workshops and the “NeLLi 2019 Symposium: From New Lineages of Life to New Functions.”

When: April 2-5, 2019
Where: Hilton Union Square, San Francisco, CA

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