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August 15, 2017

Volume 31 Issue 4


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.

Alternative medicine peddling alternative facts?

A University of Alberta study looked at 330 naturopath websites in Alberta and BC to find sites promoting “vaccine-hesitancy” and alternative to vaccines. The researchers (Caulfield/Marcon/Murdoch) found that 16% of the clinics promoted anti-vaxx sentiments. The full paper Injecting doubt: responding to the naturopathic anti-vaccination rhetoric is available is from the Journal of Law and the Biosciences, and among other courses of actions says there should be less self regulation of naturopaths and more third-party oversight.

You can also read an overview of the study at Research2Reality.

Precision health visual art contest

The Humanities in Health Care team invites University of Calgary students, faculty and staff to submit an original piece of visual art which reflects what precision health means to you. Paintings, graphic art, photography, or sculpture can be used to show what the term means to you, how it could change the world, and what concerns you might feel. The submission deadline is October 13th, and then the entries will be on display for faculty, students, and staff to judge and to vote for a winner. There are also plans for talks and presentations to raise awareness and encourage discussion about precision health.

Interested? Read more.

Climate change workshop report

Genomics can contribute to the fight against climate change by helping us to understand the impact of the changes on living organisms, by identifying the abilities of organism to adapt to the changing climate, and to give us the tools to act on climate change. On May 25th of this year Genome Alberta and Emissions Reduction Alberta held a joint workshop to look at how those tools can be applied in a sustainable and practical way to deal with changes in our climate.

The report from that workshop is now available. We encourage you to visit our website, download the report, and share your thoughts.

4H Carcass Competition

4-H has been in Alberta for 100 years and one of the events celebrating the milestone was a new provincial competition for its members. The 4-H Alberta Steer Carcass Competition provided the opportunity for members to learn more about producing quality Alberta Beef destined for the restaurant market. There were 57 steers registered in the competition for the top placing and the results were announced at a 4H lunch and celebration event on August 6th.

The 4-H members submitted hair samples to Delta Genomics for testing, with results and an explanation of each animal’s genomics provided to the entrant. The steers were graded on specific criteria developed by the 4H Beef Advisory Committee Steering Committee volunteers. Genome Alberta sponsorship provided each member with a genetic profile for each steer and an understanding of the role of genomics plays in animal production.

Genome Alberta President and CEO David Bailey was on hand to present the awards to the winners and he is pictured at left with the top 5 winning team members.

Innovative science research in Canada is dying a silent death

This article by University of British Columbia professor of genetics Kelly Marshall McNagny points out that many Canadian research labs employ fewer trainees and that some are considering closing or moving. Part of the problem is in guiding the public and politicians down the path that starts with basic science and ends up in a new medial treatment or product.

Working together with Indigenous Peoples to enhance equity and access in precision health

A new project funded by Genome BC seeks to initiate preliminary conversations with individuals of Indigenous ancestries to determine their perspectives, values, and concerns while raising awareness of under-representation in genomics databases. In addition to a report of the research findings, the project will deliver a short video that shares the diverse viewpoints of participants, while helping to create awareness.

This project Indigenous Peoples and Genomics: Starting a Conversation, is valued at $50,000 and was funded through Genome BC’s Societal Issues Competition. Read the complete details on the Genome BC website.

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.


This trended briefly but we have included it in this edition of our newsletter for a couple of reasons.

For a start it was largely a spontaneous and grassroots trend that illustrates that even the little things can generate a lot of traffic. It isn’t about a big breakthrough and it will probably fade and disappear over the next week or so. It started with Paige Jarreau who is based at Louisiana State University but also has a lot of ‘side projects’ that involve social media and science communication. She started an experiment.com crowd funding project to see how Instagram (an image sharing app) can be used for effective science communication. The project is based on a study published in PLOS ONE which found that a sample of roughly 100 U.S. adults stereotyped scientists as "robot-like and lacking emotions." She went on social media and challenged scientists to break the stereotype with Instagram and Twitter posts. The response has been significant and at the time we are writing this the crowd funding part of the research has already reached a quarter of its target. (the research team includes a Canadian from the University of Toronto). Paige also promoted the project and the selfies with a blog post.

The other reason we have included this in our trending stories is because of an op-ed article in AAAS Science by U.S. Democratic Senator Chris Coons. At the same time as #scientistswhoselfie was growing in popularity, Senator Coons’ article was generating some discussion internally about the nature of science communications and the role of scientists in communicating the importance of their work and of science in general. Do scientists have the time to effectively telly the story of their work? Are they the best spokespeople?

Dig out your social media accounts and look for #scientistswhoselfie or the scientistselfie account on Instagram.

Hallelujah it’s raining money?
Stem cell job ad is a window into clinics & their finances

This is a follow-up to our trending story in our last GenOmics newsletter. The blog post from the Knoepfler lab draws attention to an ad promising that the right sales candidate “will earn a very nice 6 figure income!” if they get enough patients through the clinic’s doors.

Is this how we want the future of stem cell therapy to look?

Also as a follow-up you should listen to a new podcast featuring several aspects of the story and some of the people we mentioned in our round-up. You’ll hear from George Gibson (a patient left blind after a dubious stem cell treatment), bioethicist Leigh Turner, and stem cell researchers Jeanne Loring, and Paul Knoepfler.

Alberta Epigenetics Network News Up arrow

The reason all human faces are unique

Researchers in France and Switzerland pondered the question of why human faces do not all look the same. After all, animals of the same species have identical features. So why, the researchers wondered, aren’t human faces following that same cookie-cutter pattern? The Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research team discovered that epigenetic mechanisms called histone modifications do most of the face shaping work that makes you look like you.

Read more on our website.

Chromatin is not as ordered as initially thought and neither is compacted in entirety

Chromatin is critical for DNA packaging and inheritance but the structure is poorly understood even after several in vitro studies. Current understanding from these in-vitro studies using treated DNA have shown that human cells contain about 2 meters of DNA packaged into a nucleus that is a thousandth of a millimeter across. Its organization is typically presented through a hierarchical model in which 147 bases of DNA loop around 11-nanometer nucleosomes with some 20 bases to 75 bases between each DNA-nucleosome structure forming histones. These so-called "beads-on-a-string" then fold into additional fibers to eventually form chromosomes. This structure and its functional correlation to genomic expression especially the compacting, wrapping of chromatin and histones significantly contribute to epigenetic inheritance. In a ground breaking 3D visualization of chromatin in-vivo by a group from Salk Institute, a new model for chromatin organization has been proposed. Study has shown that chromatin is ‘disorganized and the disordered chromatin chains are flexible and bend and fold into different packing densities’. This is thought to explain the ability of chromatin to rapidly condense and also allow for inheritance of epigenetic interactions and structures after cell division. Changes in packing density of chromatin can limit the accessibility of chromatin, providing a local and global structural basis through which different combinations of DNA sequences, nucleosome variations, and modifications could be integrated in the nucleus to exquisitely fine-tune the functional activity and accessibility of genomes.

Role of epigenetics in development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) adult onset motor neuron disease

A new study out of Australia examined the potential epigenetic contributors to the adult-onset motor neuron disease in ALS. Using a combination of bisulfite sequencing and array-based methylation testing, the researchers characterized blood samples from five identical twin pairs, leading to thousands of differentially methylated regions in the individuals with ALS compared to their unaffected identical twins. In all but one of the twin pairs, the investigators also saw an uptick in age-related methylation marks in the individuals with ALS. Extensive changes in methylation patterns were found in ALS-affected co-twins, consistent with an epigenetic contribution to disease. The team believes that these DNA methylation findings could be used to develop blood-based ALS biomarkers, to understand disease pathogenesis, diagnosis and support future large-scale ALS epigenetic studies.

Scientists create the first mutant ants

Not quite the stuff of horror movies but gene editing technology has been used to alter the genome of 2 different ant species. Ants are a particularly good target for epigenetic studies because of the various social roles that spring from the same genome with different genes toggled on or off. In this case separate research teams focused on the genes crucial to the ant's odor receptors. The results were dramatic are detailed in 2 papers on the journal Cell. (An Engineered orco Mutation Produces Aberrant Social Behavior and Defective Neural Development in Ants and orco Mutagenesis Causes Loss of Antennal Lobe Glomeruli and Impaired Social Behavior in Ants).

The Washington Post did a good summary of the work and included a couple of explanatory videos.

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.

The designer baby era is not upon us

Another feature in our last newsletter was a few of the many stories on the team of researchers who had used CRISPR tools to modify a human embryo. The failure rate in the research was low, the team did not use federal grant funding so it was legal, and overall the results will prove to be a ‘big deal’ in reproductive technology. It has also raised fears of designer babies and a Gattaca styled future (btw isn’t it about time for a new genetic dystopia movie?). Not quite yet says Ed Yong in this article.
Source: The Atlantic

Poll: Canadians want mandatory GMO labelling on food, don't know what GMOs are

An Angus Reid poll has shown that when it comes to GMOs the survey results are pretty similar to what we have seen in the US. Canadian want GMO foods labelled and they are hesistant about eating them bit don’t know exactly what a GMO is or how GM food is produced.
Source: Daily Hive and Global News

‘Frankenfish’ spawns exaggerated rhetoric as sales start in Canada

Fish were once marketed as “nature’s perfect brain food” and now some U.S. politicians are saying the genetically modified AquaBounty salmon is not even a fish. The genetically modified salmon is the first food product to work its way through the FDA approval process but the fight over the “freaky” fish is not over as you’ll see in this YouTube video.
Source: Alaska Dispatch News

WATCH: Gene Editing Breakthrough

This 25 minute interview by Charlie Rose focuses on the recent gene editing of a human embryo, the implications of the research, and the future. It features Richard Hynes, Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Hank Greely, and Pam Belluck
Source: PBS

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!

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.

Epigenetics 2017

The 7th Epigenetics Australian Scientific Conference presented by the Australian Epigenetics Alliance is coming to Brisbane.

Themes include:
  • Epigenetic Therapies and Biomarkers
  • Development and Inheritance
  • Epigenetic Mechanisms
  • Functional Epigenomics
  • Epigenetics and Disease
When: October 29 – November 1
Where: Brisbane, Australia

For more information and to register visit the conference website.

SPARK 2017

Registration is now open for SPARK 2017, a clean technology/bioindustrial conference being co-hosted this fall by Emissions Reduction Alberta and Alberta Innovates. The event will provide an opportunity for innovators and researchers to connect with others in their field, and with purchasers, funders, innovation advisers, and industry groups and associations.

SPARK 2017 is expected to attract 400 or more attendees from the oil and gas, agriculture, forestry, clean technology and bioindustrial sectors. Conference sessions will cover a range of topics, including how Alberta is advancing technology through policy and regulation, how other jurisdictions have succeeded in advancing this area, innovators who have successfully accessed funding and what they learned, what the market is demanding today, and next-gen products and technologies.

When: November 6 - 8, 2017
Where: Shaw Conference Centre, Edmonton

4th Annual Canadian Conference on Epigenetics: Mechanisms of Disease

This symposium is intended to bring together a critical mass of epigenetics researchers, along with key international leaders in the field, to engage in cross-disciplinary dialogue on recent advancements in the field of epigenomics with a focus on the impact of epigenetic mechanisms in human disease.

Travel awards are available for research trainees, medical students, and knowledge dissemination experts. Please see www.epigenomes.ca/events for more information.

When: November 26 - 29, 2017
Where: The Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler, British Columbia

Registration is now open and there is still time to submit your presentation ideas and abstracts.
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