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May 15, 2017

Volume 30 Issue 3


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

B.C. developed hepatitis C screening test personalizes treatment for patients

Genome BC funded researchers have developed a new tool to determine the unique genetic characteristics of the hepatitis C virus in individuals. Antiviral drugs can lead to an effective cures but hepatitis C mutate rapidly and drug resistant strains of the virus result in a viral relapse. The new technology mean that doctors can determine the virus strain and prescribe a drug to increase the success rate of treatment. The work was done at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and was also funded in part by Merck Canada.

Five questions for a leading authority on pipeline corrosion

We almost feel like we should have a drum roll leading up to the link to this article because Genome Alberta has had a long association with Calgarian Tom Jack. He is a microbiologist who is lending his expertise to the Microbial Induced Corrosion project led by Genome Alberta and Genome Atlantic.

So with that drum roll playing somewhere, here is Tom Jack to talk about a little understood but important part of the energy industry.

Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research celebrates 10 years of discovery

The Sprott Centre at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute brings together researchers crossing over many science disciplines and sectors. This provides a unique opportunity to have collaborators a short walk away, and easy access to specialized equipment and lab facilities. The Centre has become a leader in stem cell research since its inception and this year celebrates its 10th anniversary.

Read more about the Centre and its work in this media release.

Call for research proposals to access CHMS Biobank

Statistics Canada is inviting individuals and labs to apply for access to blood, urine and DNA samples from the CHMS Biobank for use in health studies.

The biobank is designed to produce a nationally representative cohort to facilitate the progress of new and innovative health research projects. It holds biospecimens collected from over 22,000 consenting Canadians between the ages of 3 to 79 years. The biospecimens are available to Canadian researchers who complete the review process and would benefit from a national population survey of approximately 5,600 participants per collection cycle.

You have until June 30 to submit your application.

Introducing the second season of the New Science Communicator series

Genome Alberta is one of the founders of Science Borealis, the only Canadian science blogging network and we are an ongoing supporter of the organization’s activities. The New Science Communicator series debuted last year in collaboration with Science Atlantic and Canadian Science Publishing and a new series is set to appear. Five posts from undergraduates in the physics and nanoscience programs at the University of Guelph will appear on the Science Borealis blog pages.

Find out who these up and coming science communicators are. We’ll share links to their material in future editions of our newsletter.

From our Genome Alberta Blog Pages

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.

March for Science

April 22nd was a big day for science as hundreds of thousands of people around the world marched to show their support for the value of science. Like many similar events, the challenge now is to continue the momentum and support beyond the day. With that in mind we are featuring more about the March in this edition of our newsletter.

Scientists will be scientists, and the March was a perfect opportunity for researchers to observe, analyze, and get a read on perception before and after the event. A Pew Research Center survey has found that most Democrats and younger adults feel that the various Marches will help the causes of scientists. And guess what? Republicans and older adults believe the Marches will not raise public support for scientists. There is a lot of information in the survey to analyze, so you can head to the Pew website and unpack the data yourself.

The American Geophysical Union has laid out a week-by-week action plan including telling some stories and contacting politicians. There seemed to be equally as many thank-you sites and photo galleries such as this one which might help people re-live the moment but not likely to move things along.

A recurring theme leading up to the March was one of an ‘anti-science movement’. If you really stop to think about that phrase however, it is one that can polarize the discussion considerably, because true anti-science policies or organizations are rare. Nature magazine says to ‘beware the anti-science label’. What at first might appear to be anti-science might be more political or cultural but the harm remains – it is all in how you phrase it.

In the long run though, did the March do any good? Step by step, the March for Science did more harm than good says this article.

Alberta Epigenetics Network News Up arrow

The paternal epigenome makes its mark

We tend to focus on the health of the mother during pregnancy to promote normal development and long term health of the child. There is new evidence however that the father’s behaviour and environmental exposures can have an influence. Researchers believe that the sperm has a “memory of a male’s life experiences, ranging from his nutritional status to his exposure to toxic chemicals”. His epigenome is ready to influence his offspring before pregnancy occurs.
Source: JAMA Network

Predictive algorithms, from stock market fluctuations to predicting cancer; the marriage of financial markets to precision health

A new initiative developed with a gift of $5 million from WorldQuant (WQ), Weill Cornell Medicine, New York City will develop metagenomic diagnostic tools to help researchers and clinicians better understand the genetic factors that drive disease in individual patients. The initiative would use WQ's supercomputing infrastructure, which will include new software that applies advanced pattern-recognition algorithms to model disease progression. The ‘precision meta-genomics’ platform will combine single-cell omics and single-molecular measurements from tissue and blood samples, match them with longitudinal patient health record and use machine learning to develop diagnostic tools that can predict how diseases (e.g. cancer) develop, evolve and respond to therapy. The OMICS tests will include single-cell proteomics imaging with mass cytometry, single-cell RNA sequencing, single-cell epigenomics, genetic and epigenetic analysis of cell-free nucleic acids. WQ is a private institutional investment management complex consisting of an international team of researchers, traders, and technologists focussed on development of algorithms for quantification and automation trading processes.

Epigenetics to the rescue of infertility

Fertility in the United States is a massive industry pulling in $4.5 billion annually, but almost all of the diagnostic tests and treatments are intended for women. The few intended for men, do not look beyond the sperm count and motility, which is a very unsophisticated view of a very complex problem. Several studies have pinned the fault on the father due to epigenetics. An epigenetics based test, Seed, developed by a startup company, Episona, hopes to fix this problem by analyzing 480,000 regions of the epigenome. Different genes are associated with different parts of fertility. TAS2R60 for example is a gene that is thought to have an important role in helping sperm “find” the egg and the gene CATSPER has a well-documented role in helping sperm penetrate the egg. While ID3 is important for embryo development. These are just three out of many genes believed to be related to fertility. Developed by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, and the University of Utah, Episona focuses specifically on DNA methylation on the epigenome. Using microarrays from Illumina Inc., Seed examines over 480,000 regions on sperm DNA for abnormal methylation at different gene sites important to fertility. A relative risk is then assigned to each abnormal location for either male factor infertility or poor embryo development.

Using your ‘epigenetic aging clock’ to predict life expectancy

Much of society is fixated on not growing old. Whether it is the quest for the Fountain of Youth, or simply loading up with anti-aging creams, we want to avoid the ravages of time. Our ‘epigenetic clock’ maps activity within a genome over time, based on DNA methylation levels at different sites. If we can understand what make this clock tick we may slow down aging. Or we may do what Life Insurer GWG has done by acquiring rights to epigenetic mortality predictor technology developed by Steve Horvath of UCLA. In a paper published in Genome Biology, the group had shown that methylation could predict all-cause mortality later in life, independent of health status, lifestyle, and known genetic factors. Earlier, GWG Life began collecting and analyzing epigenetic data from saliva of policyholders selling their life insurance. This is the first such company to use genetics and epigenetic tools in the insurance industry.

Genomics in Society Up arrow

To get your latest full version of Genomics in Society news, visit genomealberta.ca/newsletters
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LISTEN: Jay Ingram on Science Communication

This podcast from the Science in the City website manages to cover a lot of ground in only 30 minutes. Jay talks about his Beakerhead organization, the state of science communications, and how we can deal with some of the challenges in explaining research. He makes several interesting points but you might take note of the fact that in his view at least, an afternoon workshop does not make you a science communicator and that ‘lay summaries’ are probably anything but.
Source: Science in the City

HeLa cells could have undermined research to the tune of billions of dollars

HeLa cells have been growing so well since the Fifties when they were taken from Henrietta Lacks (without the consent of her or her family), they may have contaminated many of the world's other cell lines used for scientific research. The implications may be both wide and deep.
Source: CBC

Can tree planting really help mitigate climate change?

Maybe. Depends on where, when, and how.
Source: Earth and Space Science News

Great leaf forward: The top 10 trends driving the Canadian advanced bioeconomy

This article from Biofuels Digest says Canada is holding its own and exceeding expectations in the global bioeconomy. From biofuels in aviation to the development of a bioindustrial complex in Ontario, the writes thinks that a home-grown approach is paying off.
Source: Biofuels Digest

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!

Genomics and Society - Expanding the ELSI Universe

The 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.

Topics for keynote and plenary sessions include:
  • The Evolution and Future of ELSI Research
  • Synthesizing the Human Genome
  • Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of the Precision Medicine Initiative
  • Genome Sequencing Enters the Clinic
  • Genes, Ancestry and Identity
When: June 5 - 7, 2017
Where: UConn Health/Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine campus, Farmington, Connecticut

More information and registration link

Personalized Medicine Summit

The 2nd Personalized Medicine Summit 2017 follows on from the highly successful first summit in 2015, which resulted in a consensus advisory document, the Roadmap for Bringing Personalized Medicine to British Columbians.

The deliverable of the summit meeting will be an updated edition of the 2015 roadmap publication to assist government, the public and healthcare providers to implement personalized precision medicine to result in more efficient and effective healthcare.

When: June 11-13, 2017
Where: Life Sciences Institute, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC

Register now for the 2nd Personalized Medicine Summit

Additional summit information, including program & accommodations

Precision Medicine Summit

As more healthcare organizations nationwide put precision medicine into practice, the opportunities it brings for disease treatment and prevention are enormous. But the challenges are also very real. The HIMSS Precision Medicine Summit was designed to provide attendees with the insights and tools they need to address those challenges head on – and take the next steps.

Event highlights:
  • Explore precision medicine barriers with 2 full days of expert keynotes, panels and breakout sessions
  • Develop a plan of action and long-term strategies you can implement at your own organization
  • Learn emerging technologies, the latest trends, and success strategies around personal genomics, diagnostics, immunotherapy, analytics, infrastructure and more
  • Network with peers, thought leaders, and precision medicine experts, and get the insights you need to move forward

When: June 12 - 13, 2017
Where: Westin Boston Waterfront, Boston MA

Learn more and register online at the Summit website

Forest Health and Productivity - joint meeting of the CFGA 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. Abstracts are now being accepted for Posters and Volunteer presentations.

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

Canadian Forest Genetics Association

Registration Details

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