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September 1, 2017

Volume 31 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.

Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein receives award

Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein, a senior research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Lethbridge, received the Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation. at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference in Calgary last night. Dr. Schwartzkopf-Genswein’s scientific leadership has contributed to advancements in early disease detection, feeding behavior, stress assessment, and acidosis, and she has been instrumental in advancing the knowledge and practices related to beef cattle transportation, lameness and pain mitigation.

View the complete media release for more details on the award and about Dr. Schwartzkopf-Genswein.

New academic wage-subsidy program to create 1,000 student job opportunities in Canadian biotech companies

A federally funded program will provide $6 million in wage subsidies over four years for 1,000 co-op placements for students to gain work experience in Canadian biotech companies. The initiative is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Student Work-Integrated Learning Program and by BioTalent Canada.

If you are intrerested in accessing wage subsidies through the program learn more on the BioTalent Canada website.

2017-18 Accelerating food innovation in Alberta - Application of research or technology for new product development

Alberta Innovates has announced a new funding program designed to provide funding for applied research and product development. The program helps to bring together food processors and academic researchers in a unique initiative that supports the development of globally competitive food innovations for entry into local, national or international markets.

Interested? You need to download the forms and apply by September 11th.

Chair of the Board of the Alberta Innovates Corporation

Alberta Innovates is searching for a new Board Chair. It is a challenging position that represents the Board and its interests as well as the interests of the Corporation, in dealing with Alberta Economic Development and Trade, the CEO of Alberta Innovates, and stakeholders inside and outside the Corporation and the Government of Alberta.

Full details and information on how to apply can be found on the Alberta government website.

Innovation and robotics will speed up tumour analysis

Genome BC is investing in a cancer research project that aims to speed up genetic tests of tumours through the development of a robotics system. This project is worth approximately $200,000 and was funded by Genome BC and the Provincial Health Services Authority.

For more information you can read the complete media release.

Noel Cadigan appointed as industrial research chair for fish stock assessment

Industry, government, academia, donors and the Marine Institute will contribute $2.5 million over the next five years to improve fish stock assessments in the Northwest Atlantic, according to a news release from the Newfoundland and Labrador provincial government. That includes the appointment of Dr. Noel Cadigan, as the Ocean Choice International Research Chair in Stock Assessment and Sustainable Harvest Advice for Northwest Atlantic Fisheries at the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland.

This comes at an important time as some researchers see major problems ahead for Atlantic Canada’s aquaculture industry because of rising water temperatures. A $4.4 million collaboration between biologists at University of Waterloo, Memorial University and the Universities of Guelph and Prince Edward Island could be the key to helping the industry adapt with a superior salmon stock that can survive in higher water temperatures.

From our 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.

Invasion of the Farmed Fish

Consumers generally accept that the meat and vegetables they buy come from a farm. When it comes to seafood however, consumers are not quite so accepting. From ethical concerns to the use of antibiotics to the possibility of genetic modification, fish farming has raised many questions. After exceptionally high tides damaged nets and allowed thousands of Atlantic salmon to escape from a Canadian operated fish farm near Victoria, concerns have been dialed up considerably. That means the escaped Atlantic salmon are now mixing with wild Pacific salmon. Research2Reality dug into if this will turn out to be “no big deal to total ecological disaster”. While there will be a lot of questions about how the fish escaped, the bigger issue for the industry, consumers, and researchers is will be whether the fish will survive. Interbreeding is considered impossible but disease and competition between the 2 species is not as clear cut.

The Washington State Lummi First Nation is voicing some of the loudest concerns and claims to have already caught 20,000 of the Atlantic fish (the fish farm says only 3,000 to 5,000 escaped) and some reports say the fish are being caught much farther north.

At the same time as the escaped fish were capturing headlines another fish farming story broke and as you looked across social media, the 2 stories started to run together. Video of fish that were sickly and deformed was circulated by a First Nations group which collected the footage with the help of a Sea Shepherd activist vessel. The footage also seems to show wild fish trapped inside the farmed fishnets. Apart from asking Fisheries and Oceans to stop coastal fish farming, a First Nation-led group has occupied salmon farm on Swanson Island, BC. The Globe & Mail has a good round-up for you of the 2 events.

FDA Crackdown on Stem Cell Clinics

Our trending stories section has had several runs at stem cell clinics with dubious treatments and features on stem cell tourism. The issue is not going away and over the last few weeks has even gained some momentum as reports surfaced about patients left with lasting damage after stem cell treatment.

Now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it is taking action against clinics that are using unproven therapies or making claims that cannot be supported. The LA Times called it an “opening salvo” in a story that described the seizure of a smallpox vaccine that was to be mixed with stem cells and injected into patients’ malignant tumours. Ars Technica summed it up well in its headline “Dubious stem cell clinic got hold of smallpox vaccine. FDA just took it away. The Minneapolis Star Tribune is one newspaper that still has a reporter on the medical beat who offered a good summary of the FDA announcement and the issue. The NY Times has been covering the developing issue for some time now and also has a good overview of the business of stem cell treatments. U.S. clinics have tended to get the most headlines recently but other countries are having similar problems. 6 people were arrested in Japan for using umbilical cord blood to treat cancer and as a beauty treatment

Leigh Turner is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics and his recent articles and papers have gone a long way to promote the problems associated with the hype around stem cell treatments. One area of particular concern for Turner are so-called “pay to participate” studies. Not everyone agrees with his concerns, and this past week he responded in a RegMedNet article. Turner isn’t alone in his crusade though. Paul Knoepfler has also been on the case and AAAS Science has written about how he has risen to become an “industry watchdog”.

There are legitimate stem cell therapies however and as we were close to hitting send on our newsletter this media release came across our desk followed by a CBC story on the first FDA approval of a gene therapy in United States.

Alberta Epigenetics Network News Up arrow

Exploiting induced and natural epigenetic variation for crop improvement

Nature Reviews Genetics 18, 563–575 (2017)
Plant breeding has traditionally relied on combining the genetic diversity present within a species to develop combinations of alleles that provide desired traits. Epigenetic diversity may provide additional sources of variation within a species that could be captured or created for crop improvement.

The mere act of living leaves a mark on your genes

Epigenetics is getting more mainstream media attention though not everyone will be excited to see it described as “genetic scars that might show up in your child's genes”. Drawing from an AAAS paper, this CBC story does a pretty good job of describing the importance of epigenetics to a general audience.

Characterization of noncoding regulatory DNA in the human genome

Genetic variants associated with common diseases are usually located in noncoding parts of the human genome. By mapping these features we are accelerating our understanding of the regulatory, non-coding human genome.

Researchers found that a common mushroom uses epigenetics to kill cancer

Side effects from chemotherapy or immunotherapy often limit their clinical utility in urothelial cell carcinoma of the bladder. To explore alternative therapies, researchers were particularly interested medicinal mushrooms called Phellinus linteus (PL) with antitumor/anticancer activity. It seems that some mushrooms have ‘super powers’ to limit tumour growth.

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.

White nationalists are flocking to genetic ancestry tests. Some don’t like what they find

There is a trend among white nationalists to use ancestry testing services to prove their racial identity. Problem is the results are not always what they expect or want. Two sociologists examined years’ worth of posts on the white nationalist website Stormfront to see how they dealt with the facts that didn’t match their worldview. With help from the University of California, Los Angeles, they analyzed 12 million posts and came up with some interesting results on how users rationalized the discrepancy.
Source: STAT News

Gene editing might mean my brother would’ve never existed

The author of this op-ed piece had a brother named Jason who suffers from muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, severe nearsightedness, hydrocephalus and intellectual disability. If CRISPR technology been able to head off those problems, who would Jason be? Would he be the Jason his family knew and cared for?
Source: Time Magazine

The promise & peril of synthetic biology

Andrew Hessel left Canada many years ago and now lives in the San Francisco Bay area where he is an Autodesk Distinguished Researcher working on the rapid design and manufacture of synthetic viruses as cancer therapies. He is also one of the people driving the Genome Project-write which is working towards ‘writing’ DNA and building human genomes from scratch. In this 75 minute podcast he discusses the development of synthetic biology and its upsides and downsides.
Source: After On podcast

US biomedical-research facilities unprepared for attacks and natural disasters

A Houston-area chemical plant that lost power after tropical storm Harvey flooded the area was rocked by fires and two explosions. So far there seems to be no immediate danger from the fumes but it drives home a point made in a recent report from the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. It recommends that steps be taken to protect biomedical research from disasters whether natural or man-made. One size won’t fit all, but the report does offer ten steps that can be taken by researchers, institutions and funding organizations.
Source: Nature

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!

TechStock Driving Change - Social Impact through Innovation

TechStock explores how technology and social innovations are making an impact on our society and driving change in areas such as sustainability, health, education and more. There will be a speaker panel on Creating Impact through Innovation starting at 1:00p followed by the tech exhibition featuring 45+ local companies demonstrating their technology or social innovation products and ideas. Techstock is part of Beakerhead week so you can bet there will be some surprised for you. And food trucks!

When: September 14th from 1:00 – 6:30
Where: Alastair Ross Technology Centre, 3553 31 Street NW in Calgary (the building immediately east of our Genome Alberta office).

To get an idea of what you will see throughout the day, visit the Innovate Calgary website.

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, 2017
Where: Brisbane, Australia

For more information and to register visit the conference website.

Gairdner Symposium on Precision Medicine & Microbiome

The Gairdner Symposium on Precision Medicine and the Microbiome will feature world-renowned academic, researchers and industrial experts, including Dr. Lee Hood, Dr. Martin Blaser, Dr. Kevin Maloy, Dr. Gwen Randolph and Dr. Henrique Veiga-Fernandes.

The focus will be on precision medicine and the role of the microbiome in host immune cell development and function during health and disease including during infections, inflammation, and chronic disease. Integrated within this symposium, we will also have presentations and a panel discussion from microbiome industry representatives.

We will also take this opportunity to introduce the Western Canadian Microbiome Centre (WCMC)

When: November 9 - 10, 2017
Where: Foothills Campus, University of Calgary.

More information will be coming in the fall. Please email vprcomms@ucalgary.ca to be included in the mailing list.

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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