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April 15, 2017

Volume 30 Issue 1


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

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

University of Calgary Biostatistics Centre initiative gets national recognition

The University of Calgary Biostatistics Centre (UCBC) is multi-disciplinary initiative that crosses institutions and provincial borders. It includes members from the U of C Faculties of Veterinary Medicine, Science, Nursing, Kinesiology, and the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), as well as researchers from Alberta Health Services and the University of British Columbia Okanagan. One of the Centre’s initiatives is to develop training programs in the field of big data education and research. UCBC wanted to lead the country with those training programs and the Canadian Statistical Sciences Institute (CANSSI) has given that goal a big boost by designating the them as a CANSSI Health Sciences Collaborating Centre. The designation will help attract more high quality graduate students and research, with increased access to more datasets.

Read more about the award and the UCBC in UToday.

Oversight at risk: The state of government science in British Columbia

Capacity, communication, and independence are key to the integrity of science says the not-for-profit organization Evidence for Democracy. They used those markers for evaluating the state of government science in British Columbia. The report was released this month and concludes that budget cutbacks has put research capacity and regulatory oversight at risk.

Read an overview of the work on the organization’s website or download the full report.

Alberta is also looking into its own science policy and commissioned the Council of Canadian Academies to write a report. "Science Policy: Considerations for Subnational Governments” is scheduled to be released on April 19 at 7:00am MDT.

New graduates labour market report 2017

A new report from BioTalent Canada offers some insight into benefits provided by wage subsidy programs to both new graduates and bio-economy employers. Opening the Door II suggests that wage subsidy programs have proven to be important for the growth and development of small- and medium-sized businesses within Canada’s bio-economy, and also for new graduates.

Read the news release from BioTalent Canada or head straight to the full report (pdf file) to get all the details.

Message from the Acting President of the CIHR

On March 31st Dr. Roderick McInnes was named as the Acting President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and here is the full text of his message from the CIHR website.

"Dear colleagues,

With the recent retirement of Dr. Alain Beaudet, CIHR has begun the selection process for its new President. Canada’s Minister of Health, the Honourable Jane Philpott, has asked me to serve as Acting President of CIHR during this transitional period, and I am pleased to accept this appointment.

It is critical that Canada’s health researchers trust its federal funding agency, and I have made it my goal to restore that trust. As some of you may recall, this will be my second stint with CIHR (I first served as the Scientific Director of the Institute of Genetics, from 2000–2010). In this new role, I will be reaching out to you, Canada’s health researchers, stakeholders, and partners, on a regular basis. I will listen to your concerns, and initiate the changes required to make CIHR the institution we all want it to be, and know that it can be. I can assure you that I have the full support of Minister Philpott in this endeavour.

I remain very optimistic about the future of health research in Canada. I look forward to working with you to facilitate your research.


Roderick McInnes CM, MD, PhD, FRSC
Acting President, CIHR”

From our Blog Pages

Support Science Borealis

Need a new coffee mug? How about a Science Matters t-shirt to wear to the March on Science next week? Tote bag? Calendar?
Science Borealis swag will help show that you care about a Canadian voice for science.

And speaking of calendars we have a few of the Genome Alberta Annual Report wall calendars available. Drop us a note to info@genomealberta.ca and we’ll send one out to you.

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.

Enjoy the material, and feel free to offer some feedback on the story selection.

Canada’s fundamental science review

While there were other stories that popped up frequently in our monitoring over the last 2 weeks there is one that deserves our full attention, and that is the report commissioned by the Federal Government and that could chart the course for science funding in Canada for the next few years.

Perhaps more widely known as the Naylor Report (after Chair, David Naylor) the review was set in motion in June of 2016 by Canada’s Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan. In general the current Liberal government supports basic science, but wanted the review to make sure that funding was being distributed efficiently, determine if that research managed to meet the needs of scientists, and how it aligned with Canada’s strategic goals.

The 280 page report makes a variety of recommendations and one of the consistent observations is that federal research needs more co-ordination and better funding if Canada is to keep up, or get ahead, of other countries. The Globe & Mail goes so far as to say we risk a “lost generation’ of young scientists. Canada has fallen from seventh to ninth in total research output and the Ottawa Citizen keyed in on the report’s suggestion that this drop corresponds to a “flat-lining” of federal research support (the report’s authors quite like the term ‘flat line’).

Apart from the recommendation for new money, much of the media headlines were about the report’s suggestions for a new approach to funding. Headlines emphasizing “new thinking” and “system overhaul” keyed on that part of the report but not if it means more bureaucracy said Globe columnist Barrie McKenna. Paul Wells has been going through the report for Maclean’s magazine and thinks it has some recommendations that will make the current government uncomfortable and that the report could be filed away and forgotten. Most reaction we have seen so far however shares a similar message to this Toronto Star Editorial - Ottawa should act on new science-policy report.

Various institutions weighed in after the report was released including Universities Canada which saw potential in the report’s recommendations and the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities which stuck to the safe route of welcoming and applauding the report. The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences offered a little more substance in a media release which seemed to key on the diversity recommendations for funding. Research Canada saw the report as a chance to “reinvigorate Canadian research” and HealthCareCAN which represents hospitals and healthcare organizations in Canada, said that “science is back”. Most of the organizations and institutions we monitored such as the University of Lethbridge also added that they would be studying the report in detail over the coming weeks.

While the Fundamental Science Review was setup by the Federal Government it was still an arms length exercise, so the Government was obliged to respond and that came in a statement from the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science.

As more scientists, pundits, and armchair politicians have time to read the entire report in detail we’ll be working to bring you more reactions and predictions.

Alberta Epigenetics Network News Up arrow

LISTEN: How are instincts inherited? A new theory says 'epigenetics.'

Dr. Gene Robinson defines epigenetics as “a change in the function or activity of aspects in the genome without a change in the DNA." He is the Director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology and he says what we often attribute to instinct is better viewed as ‘ancestral memory’. In this interview with Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald, Dr. Robinson says much of this behaviour is due to epigenetic changes.
Source: Quirks & Quarks

Epigenetics to the rescue on climate change

Climate change is real and while scientists and politicians wrestle with ways to rein it in, plants and animals around the world are left to deal with it. Some species are already showing signs of adapting to the changes and this article says epigenetics may have a real role to play in conservation.
Source: Whatisepigenetics.com

Can epigenetics predict mortality? A new study says ‘Yes’.

A new study by Brenner et al has confirmed that DNA methylation, a key epigenetic indicator, can predict an individual’s mortality risk. Methylation (addition of methyl labels in the DNA) play a key role in the epigenetic regulation of gene activity. Life style and environmental factors such as diet or smoking, in turn influence methylation.
Source: Nature Communications

Use of Epigenetics to create a new breed of Autobots

In a first of its kind study, researchers developed autonomous robots using ‘genotype to phenotype’ maps, added epigenetic regulators to study how autonomous robots are affected by environmental factors. Using mating algorithms to generate offspring robots, the study developed 10 generations of robots and studied the influence of epigenetics on genomes. Evolutionary robotics is a new and emerging field based on ‘evolutionary principles’ given by Darwin. An artificial "gene pool" is created, which produces genomes that encodes the control system of a robot just like how a genome would encode the development of a biological organism. Each robot is then allowed to act and perform tasks according to its "genetically" specified controller, and the robot's fitness is ranked according to how well it performs a certain task. However in biological organisms the interplay between environmental factors and genes influence their development.
Source: Frontiers in Robotics and AI

We’ll leave you with a bit of epigenetics humour that has been making the rounds on social media. This came from @EpiExperts but we’re not sure where it originated. The image itself has been used in many ways by many sources with the text changed to suit the context:

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 bi-monthly edition direct to your email, cancel a subscription, and view all of our back issues.

Women and children: Medical research needs YOU!

Young people are not just a smaller version of an adult, and individual metabolisms and hormones vary depending on sex and age. Yet data sets for medical research tend to be heavily represented by white males. The Women and Children’s Health Research Institute at the University of Alberta is working to improve the mix of participants across age and sex to help address the problem.
Source: Research2Reality

Gene therapy: What personalized medicine means for you

It isn’t a silver bullet yet, but precision treatment of certain types of cancer are already being used and first person stories like this one, leave the general public hoping for more.
Source: CNET Magazine

Brendan Frey and his company Deep Genomics is featured in the CNET story but he was also featured in a recent Globe & Mail article - “His unborn child’s genetic problem launched his business”. He was already involved in deep machine learning, but after problems during his wife’s pregnancy he realised he could bring that experience to the field of genomics.
Source: Globe & Mail

WATCH: New research shows stem cells may help stroke recovery

Stem cell therapy may help people recover from a stroke but as with all stem cell therapy research it isn’t as straightforward as the headline makes it look.
Source: Global News

How grad students can help diversity Alberta’s economy

Genome Alberta has 3 employees who came out of the Masters of Biomedical Technology Program at the University of Calgary and we are looking forward to having a summer MBT student join us shortly. Derrick Rancourt is a professor at the U of C Cumming School of Medicine and he thinks the kind of training and encouragement these graduate students receive can help Alberta’s elusive desire to “diversity the economy”.
Source: Troy Media

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!

Introduction to Cost Effectiveness Modeling

This is a five day course designed to equip individuals who have a basic understanding of cost effectiveness analysis, with the skills required to build two types of decision analytic cost effectiveness models; decision trees and Markov models.

Course participants will get hands-on experience, under the guidance of recognized experts in cost effectiveness analyses, including Dr. Chris McCabe is a health economist and Principal Investigator on the Genome Alberta funded PACEOMICS project, as well as the recently established Precision Medicine Policy Network.

Course Faculty
  • Dr. Richard Edlin
  • Dr. Claire Hulme
  • Dr. Christopher McCabe
  • Dr. Michael Paulden

When: May 29 - June 2, 2017
Where: Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Alberta, Edmonton

Details and registration information.

Genomics and Society: Expanding the ELSI Universe

This 4th ELSI Congress is the latest in a series of major conferences for researchers and others interested in the ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) of genomic research. With keynote speakers, plenary panels, workshops, and a wide range of paper, panel, and poster presentations, the Congress will provide an opportunity for scholars to reflect on current research and to envision future directions for ELSI research.

When: June 5-7, 2017
Where: Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine campus, UConn Health, Farmington, Connecticut

More information and registration available on the conference website.

The 2017 University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) Beef Cattle Conference.

The theme for the conference, Raising Healthy Beef Cattle in a Changing World, will bring together not just beef producers, but also researchers, veterinarians and other key players in the beef industry. The focus will be on the challenges and solutions of managing cattle without the use of antibiotics.

When: June 22 - 23, 2017
Where: Deerfoot Inn & Casino, Calgary

Listen to experts discuss current issues and present creative solutions and network with people from all facets of the beef industry.

For further information, you can view the conference website and registration website.

Forest Health and Productivity

Forest Health and Productivity in Changing Environments is the theme of this year's joint meeting of the Canadian Forest Genetics Association and WFGA.

The hosting organizations represent academics, researchers, tree breeders, seed biologists, students, and forestry practitioners involved in genetics and tree breeding in Canada and western North America. This biennial conference series provides a forum for sharing research results, technology transfer, and broadening the scope of their activities to cater for emerging economic and environmental challenges.

When: June 26 - 29, 2017
Where: Centennial Center for Interdisciplinary Science, University of Alberta, Edmonton.

Registration Details

Agriculture Bioscience International Conference

Hosted by the Life Science Association of Manitoba and the Government of Manitoba, this year's ABIC Conference is set up to provide three days of guest speakers, student research presentations, exhibitors and networking opportunities for attendees.

A few of the topics to be presented:
  • Quality versus Quantity and the Implication to Food Security
  • Nutrigenomics / Nutrigenetics – How our DNA will shape our diets in the Future
  • Smart Farms - The Link between Biotechnology and Enhanced Nutrition
When: September 25 - 28, 2017
Where: Delta Winnipeg Hotel, Winnipeg, Manitoba

More details on the program, accommodations and registration can be found here.

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