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June 16, 2017

Volume 30 Issue 5


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

Revolutionary U of A biopsy-reading invention reaches the masses

Funding from Canada’s Genomics Enterprise helped kick start this initiative in 2004 with the Transplantomics Project led by Phil Halloran. We would like to Dr. Halloran on being able to see this through to the final product.

Read the full media release on our website.

New support for Structural Genomics Consortium and open science

Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, announced a new $33 million investment to support the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC) – a Canadian-led, international public-private partnership that conducts basic science on the structures of human proteins and releases the research to the public to accelerate drug discovery. The funding is made possible by Genome Canada, the Canadian and Ontario governments, and several pharmaceutical companies.

You can find more detail and links on our website.

IHE announces Dr. Christopher McCabe as new Executive Director and CEO

One of the lead researchers in our PACEOmics project is now the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Health Economics. Dr. Chris McCabe has acted as a consultant for public and private sector organizations in Europe, North America, and Australia, most notably with NICE in the United Kingdom, with whom he had various roles between 2003 and 2011.

Dr. McCabe will continue as the Capital Health Endowed Research Chair at the University of Alberta and will continue his connection on PACEOMICS and the Precision Medicine Policy Network until he assumes his new position with the IHE as CEO on July 1st, 2017.

Read more details on his appointment on the IHE website.

WATCH: Improving disease resilience and sustainability in pork production

Project Manager Irene Wenger made a presentation at the Livestock Gentec Conference last year about the LSARP funded project on swine genomics. An edited version of her presentation was recently posted on YouTube and offers some insight into the project’s goals to select for pigs which are healthier, more disease resilient, and require fewer antibiotics while maintaining normal (or better) growth rates.

Thanks to Livestock Gentec for making the sessions available.

Technology platforms to support your 'omics research

Genome Canada’s technology platforms provide researchers with access to leading-edge technologies used in genomics, metabolomics, proteomics, and other related areas of research. They also assist researchers in the development of research proposals by providing advice on appropriate technologies, study design, data analysis and bioinformatics to help you improve your research. You are invited to attend a webinar on June 20th from 12:00pm (EDT) to 2:00pm (EDT) to learn more about the platforms and the services available.

10 platforms will be represented during the webinar and you can find more information on our website (pdf file) or register now to secure your spot.

Alberta weekly newspaper awards

Genome Alberta sponsors the Agriculture Supplement award for the Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association. 3rd place went to the Taber Times, 2nd to the Coaldale Sunny South News, and 1st place to the St. Paul Journal. When it comes to reaching out to many of the non-urban areas of the province, weekly newspaper are an important communications tool.

The awards were presented at the AWNA Annual meeting on June 2 and we congratulate all the winners.

More layoffs at Alberta Innovates due to massive ongoing budget cuts

After losing $60 million in the last 2 years, Alberta Innovates is facing another $16 million cut to its budget. 23 more staff were laid off last week as part of the restructuring.
Source: CBC

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.

Jennifer Doudna and the Crack in Creation

This trending story is actually a trending person. Jennifer Doudna, the scientist behind CRISPR, has a new book available in hardcover, electronic, and audio versions, and it has put her front and centre in many media outlets and into our trending section. Apart from playing a leading role in the development of the hot new technology, Doudna also became cast as a female David battling the Goliath Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. A review in Nature: Books and Art says her book A Crack in Creation tends to build on the characterization and advances it to an epic battle. Science AAAS reviewed the book and refrained from going too far over the top though it did note that it is the “narrative between the lines that propels the book forward”.

The book must have a good publicist on the job, because not only does she get top billing in Wired magazine but she also made it onto Megyn Kelly’s new NBC Sunday Night program. Alas she did not quite get to be blessed by Ms. Kelly herself but Keith Morrison (who happened to cut his journalistic teeth in Canada) did do an 11:00 minute segment complete with clever “surgery for the cell” sound bytes and a high school picture of the budding scientist. STAT online avoided some of the gush and dug a little deeper into her views on the potential pitfalls of the technology, (the NBC piece skimmed over it with a reference to a dream she had that included Hitler) and Front Line Genomics paid more attention to the tech than to the person.

CBC Radio’s The Current did a 27 minute feature on CRISPR which includes an extensive discussion with Ms. Doudna. Another good audio feature that offers up a broader look at Doudna and the CRISPR technology can be found on Freakonomics. It borrows from some other material and adds in an original interview to create a well produced piece by Stephen Dubner. You have to give the scientist-turned-author credit for nailing down her talking points because once again, the Hitler dream is used to make the point about the CRISRP’s inherent downside.

If you want a glimpse into the mind of publicists and journalists it is worth noting that CBC, STAT, NBC, and a Yahoo News story managed to work in the reference to how the technology could be used to create a unicorn. While the approach helps to get clicks and eyes on the page, one wonders if using examples such as creating unicorns or bringing back woolly mammoths is the best way to gain acceptance for gene editing technology.

By the way, Doudna has a co-author but Samuel H Sternberg gets lost in the media stampede to the main architect of CRISPR, so we’ll close the edition of Trending Stories with him giving a TED MED Talk in 2016.

Alberta Epigenetics Network News Up arrow

Using cutting-edge epigenetic research to inform decision making

Epigenetics data can be used as biomarkers for environmental toxin exposure, says Rebecca Fry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She presented her research on inorganic arsenic as a case study during the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Cutting Edge Speaker Series held in May at the Research Triangle Park. Epigenetic modifications may represent important biological mechanisms underlying disease and her team found that DNA methylation increased with arsenic exposure across the study’s population.
Source: Environmental Factor

Unveiling the complete epigenomes of the most frequent tumors

A research team from the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute has characterized the complete epigenomes of the most frequent tumors, including those of colon, lung and breast cancer. Their work, published in Oncogene, was led by Dr. Manel Esteller, Director of the Epigenetics and Cancer Biology Program at IDIBELL, ICREA Researcher and Professor of Genetics at the University of Barcelona, ​​and represents a big step in the study of origin and progression of these tumors.
Source: Oncogene

Relationship of Epigenetics and anti-social behaviour established in a new study

A new, genome-wide, prospective study from King’s College, London and the University of Bristol shows that epigenetic changes in a gene called MGLL, is associated with Conduct Problems (CP) in later life. CP is a key predictor of adult criminality and poor mental health. Maternal diet, smoking, alcohol use and exposure to stressful life events are associated with neonatal DNA Methylation (the epigenetic change) that contributes to early onset of CP. MGLL is known to also play a role in reward, addiction and pain perception.
Source: Development and Psychopathology

Epigenetics may help prevent osteoporosis

A recent study from University of Southampton shows DNA Methylation of CDKN2A gene to be associated with the bone mass of children at four and six years. Higher DNA methylation of the CDKN2A gene, which is known to play a role in development and ageing, was associated with lower bone mass at four and six years. 10 percent increase in methylation was associated with a decrease in total bone mass of around 4-9g at age four years. Findings may help early identification of individuals at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis in later life and reversing such changes as well.
Source: Journal of Bone and Mineral Research

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.

Free gene tests for Qingdao women to cut rate of birth defects

The 260,000 female residents of Qingdao, in China’s Shandong province are being offered free genetic testing. The tests are being done by the Beijing Genomics Institute and the goal is to reduce the rate of birth defects. The deputy director of the area’s health bureau says the tests will follow national regulations and standards, and the information is strictly confidential.
Source: China Daily

The dangers of mail-in genetic testing

The big issue is not so much in the tests as it is in the average person’s ability to interpret the results. Genetics is only one factor in your overall health and the complex interactions make informed decision making difficult for people who buy the testing kits. And then there are the privacy issues, anxiety about the results, and ….
Source: Maclean’s

‘A feature, not a bug’: George Church ascribes his visionary ideas to narcolepsy

Even if he is asleep, George Church will wake up when he hears his name. Good thing, because the well known biologist has been known to nod off during panel presentations. Not because he is bored by the panelist, but because he has narcolepsy which causes him to suddenly fall asleep. He has never made a secret of his condition and even suggests that some of his ideas come to him while quasi-asleep. A good and frank article, and no, he is not yet studying the genetics of narcolepsy.
Source: StatNews

WATCH: Biologist explains one concept in 5 levels of difficulty – CRISPR

A 7 year-old, a 14 year-old, a college student, a grad student, and a CRISPR expert get an explanation of gene editing using CRISPR from Neville Sanjana. All in just over 7 minutes.
Source: MSN

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!

Pan-Provincial Microbiome Workshop

The University of Calgary is hosting a free one-day workshop for academics, local and provincial industry members, and government representatives to develop a pan-provincial strategy focused on microbiome research and its impending impact on human and animal health and agriculture.

The workshop will help identify the work already underway in Alberta, determine where opportunities and challenges are, and have the discussions with across a multi-disciplinary group of attendees.

When: June 30, 2017
Where: Alberta Room, University of Calgary

Workshop registration & information.

Mining Microbial Genomes and Metagenomes

As part of the Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology's annual meeting, the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DoE JGI) will offer a 1-day workshop on Microbial Genomics and Metagenomics. The workshop will include seminars and extensive hands-on tutorials on how to use the IMG interface for comparative analysis of isolate genomes and metagenomes.

When: Sunday, July 30, 2017, 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Where: Sheraton Denver Downtown, Denver CO

Details and registration information.

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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