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September 18, 2017

Volume 31 Issue 6


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.

Alberta’s life sciences innovators to get boost from new health-tech business incubator

TEC Edmonton and Merck Canada are getting together to create a business incubator connecting burgeoning Alberta-based health technology companies with health business experts. The TEC Edmonton Merck Accelerator will be located at the University of Alberta’s Enterprise Square in downtown Edmonton, and is expected to open early in 2018. It is the first project from the Alberta Merck Innovation (AMI) in Health Fund which was developed by Merck Canada, the University Hospital Foundation and the Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.

Building capacity for improved public health delivery

Genome BC has invested approximately $850,000 towards two projects that successfully illustrate the application of precision health in the public healthcare system. These evidence-based projects demonstrate the impact of genomics on healthcare challenges through increased efficiencies and new treatment options.

You can find more details on the Genome BC website.

New additions to to the Royal Society of Canada

The Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada have elected 89 new Fellows (pdf file), and named 70 members of The College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. New members of The College represent the emerging generation of scholarly, scientific and artistic leadership in Canada and the new Fellows have been elected by their peers in recognition of outstanding scholarly, scientific and artistic achievement.

Some names that might be familiar to Alberta’s ‘omics community include:

  • Dr. Ute Kothe - Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, University of Lethbridge (Dr. Kothe is also a member of our Alberta Epigenetics Network)
  • Joule Bergerson – Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, University of Calgary
  • William Ghali – Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary
  • Pere Santamaria – Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases, University of Calgary
  • David Wishart – Departments of Biological Sciences and Computing Science, University of Alberta
  • Dennis Hall – Faculty of Science, University of Alberta

Staff changes at Genome Canada

Naveed Aziz, Director of Technology Programs, will be leaving Genome Canada on September 29. Naveed has been with us since October 2011 when he was hired to manage Genome Canada’s portfolio of programs.These programs included the technology platforms, bioinformatics and computational biology, and disruptive innovation. Naveed’s extensive experience in genomics technologies and scientific research management allowed him to expertly implement these new programs. He is moving on to become the Chief Scientific and Administrative Officer of CGen, a consortium of Canada’s three largest genomics sequencing and analysis platforms. He will be based in Toronto.

Naveed will be at Genome Canada just long enough to meet Rob Annan who has joined Genome Canada as the VP Public Affairs and Communications. Rob is an accomplished expert on research and innovation policy. A Fellow of the Public Policy Forum, he has led projects and convened discussions around research and innovation strategy. During his seven years at Mitacs, Rob helped build a Canadian success in the development and delivery of policy-driven innovation programs. Rob volunteers on the Board of Directors for Let’s Talk Science, a national charity dedicated to increasing STEM literacy among K-12 students.

Food Evolution – an audio review

Food Evolution is a feature length film directed by Oscar-nominee Scott Hamilton Kennedy and narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson who was also a script consultant for the film. It focuses on not just the technology of GMOs, but the societal and cultural reaction to genetically modified foods. It was screened in Edmonton last week and Genome Alberta sent a freelance broadcaster to the event to see what Edmontonians thought of the documentary and the subject matter.

We think you’ll find it an interesting listen.

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.

In Goop we trust?

Goop. The website for Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle company that offers odd, unusual, and probably useless ideas and products to solve all sort of health problems and even some problems that don’t even exist. Did you know you needed to be ‘grounded’ to neutralize your electrical charge? As some of Goop’s health advice sound increasingly outlandish we thought we’d give you a very brief roundup of what Goop is and is not.

Not familiar with Goop? Start with this piece from The Atlantic which gives you some insight into the company, the website, and about health journalism. The Guardian sent a reporter to cover the ‘In Goop Health’ expo where there were people paying up to $1500 USd to take in “Goop-approved matcha and coconut-water stalls” among other things. (there are more planned if you want to attend!). While The Guardian kept its journalism hat on, not so People magazine which embraced Goop’s $1300-Per-Couple Farm-to-Table Dinner Party. The advice handed out through the website and the Twitter account generally seem far-fetched and the consumer watchdog Truth in Advertising, wants Goop investigated for "unsubstantiated, and therefore deceptive, death and disease-treatment claims." It is interesting to note that the CBC story about Goop’s practices is in the Entertainment section of cbc.ca and not addressed in the health or news sections.

If you still are wondering about Goop’s ‘health’ advice here are The 23 Most Ridiculous Moments in Goop History, Ranked. Taking on Goop’s claims has comes from a variety of sources including Winnipeg-born Dr. Jen Gunter. She now practices medicine in the U.S. and blogs extensively about evidence based health information. That sometimes brings in direct opposition to Goop’s not-so-evidence-based health information and Dr. Gunter is not afraid to take it on.

Will Goop survive the building scrutiny and criticism? Gizmodo thinks that it may not.

And finally: What story on Goop would be complete without a reference to Tim Caulfield who wrote Is Gwyneth Paltrow wrong about everything? Tim is hosting the 6 part series “User's Guide to Cheating Death”, on Vision TV starting on September 18th.

Alberta Epigenetics Network News Up arrow

Dr. Ute Kothe joins The College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists

The Royal Society of Canada has named 70 new members of The College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists. Among those is AEN member Dr. Ute Kothe, a professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at the University of Lethbridge.

Dr. Kothe has made pioneering discoveries regarding the role of RNAs and proteins in gene expression with relevance for several diseases. Her leadership in the international RNA community and in science outreach has gained her numerous awards. “Being elected to The College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists is a tremendous privilege,” says Kothe. “As part of the Alberta RNA Research and Training Institute at the U of L, I am enjoying an inspiring environment to conduct ground breaking RNA research. And I’m passionate about our outreach work with the Let’s Talk Science team to engage children and youth in science.”

Cancer epigenetics in the driver's seat

Recent cancer genome projects unexpectedly highlighted the role of epigenetic alterations in cancer development. About half of human cancers were found to harbor mutations in chromatin proteins. In a review, Flavahan et al. propose that chromatin and epigenetic aberrations have the potential to confer on cells the full range of oncogenic properties represented in the classic “hallmarks” depiction of cancer. They suggest that genetic, environmental, and metabolic factors can make chromatin aberrantly permissive or restrictive. Permissive chromatin creates a state of “epigenetic plasticity,” which can activate oncogene expression or cell fate changes that drive cancer development.

The epigenetics revolution

Last week Postmedia welcomed its readers to the mind-bending science of epigenetics. The story included a video feature produced by Emory University and focused on mice that passed on a learned or conditioned aversion to the smell of acetophenone. The newspaper chain also ran stories on how epigenetics could launch a health-care revolution and what we have learned about epigenetics. Science Reporter Tom Spears of the Ottawa Citizen wrote the stories which appeared in many of the Postmedia newspapers across Canada.

'Epigenetic' changes from cigarette smoke may be first step in lung cancer development

There is no doubt that cancer and smoking are closely linked but there is still research being done on the exact changes caused by cigarette smoke. Scientists at the John Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Centre have found evidence that the smoke ‘primes’ cells to develop cancer. So far the work is all being done in the lab but it points the way to the epigenetic changes taking place in a person’s lungs. Read the media release or the full paper in Cancer Cell (you’ll need subscription access).

Genomics in Society Up arrow

To get your latest full version of Genomics in Society news, visit genomealberta.ca/newsletters
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Searching DNA: Identifying the disappeared in Colombia

A negotiated peace between FARC and the Colombian government may have settled many tensions in the country but there are still as many as 45,000 people still missing. As part of the peace agreement, both sides agreed to find and identify the missing but it will be a long and difficult process. There are many techniques being used to identify the bodies including the Combined Index System database to track and process genetic information.
Source: Al Jazeera

Science journal Nature ventures into racist medical atrocities — and regrets it

Nature Magazine published an article called "Removing statues of historical figures risks whitewashing history". In September 4th. On September 7th it revised the article saying the original version was “offensive and poorly worded” and it changed the headline to "Science must acknowledge its past mistakes and crimes". It has set social media, mainstream media, and some pockets of the science media abuzz.
Source: Washington Post and The Atlantic

Why insurers are wrong about Canada's genetic non-discrimination law

This article by Mike Hoy, Professor of Economics at the University of Guelph originally appeared in The Conversation and addresses Bill S-201, the genetic discrimination law. He has been researching genetic discrimination and says that the law will not have a major impact on insurance rates, and that it does address genetic discrimination laws.
Source: National Post

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!

The Potential For Genetic Engineering (With An Introduction To DNA)

This is part of the Innovate Calgary series on Tech and Social Impact. All meetings will start with a round-table discussion of what's been happening in the world (World-Wide Tech Updates). Summaries of the WWTU that are presented are available here (look in the 'GO interesting stuff for meeting intros' folder!).

When: Monday, September 18th at 6:30p
Where: Innovate Calgary, Alastair Ross Technology Centre, 3553 31 St NW, Calgary, Boardroom 2/3.

You should also mark the date for the next Tech and Social Impact meeting on October 9th. Topic for the evening will be Plastic From Poop - Genetically Engineering E-Coli to Produce Plastic From Biowaste - presented by Kaitlin Schaaf and the Calgary iGEM Team sponsored by Genome Alberta.

Precision Medicine and Health Disparities

You are invited to a special CDC-NIH collaborative one-hour online webinar that explores the intersection of genomics, precision medicine and health disparities.

Webinar speakers will explore the appropriate impact of genomics and precision medicine in understanding and addressing health disparities in the U.S. and around the world.
After the two 20-minute keynote presentations, another 20 minutes will be devoted to a discussion and questions and answers session with webinar participants.

When: October 11, 2017, 3:00 - 4:00pm EST
Where: Online

Registration is free but required, and you can find more information on the CDC 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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