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October 3, 2017

Volume 32 Issue 1


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.

Canada has a Chief Scientist!

After a lengthy search, the Federal Government has named Dr. Mona Nemer as Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor.

Dr. Nemer is a distinguished medical researcher whose focus has been on the heart, particularly on the mechanisms of heart failure and congenital heart diseases. Her research has led to new diagnostic tests for heart failure and the genetics of cardiac birth defects. She has spent more than ten years as the Vice-President, Research at the University of Ottawa, has served on many national and international scientific advisory boards, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Member of the Order of Canada, and a Chevalier de l’Ordre du Québec.

As Canada’s new top scientist, Dr. Nemer will provide impartial scientific advice to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Science. She will also make recommendations to help ensure that government science is fully available and accessible to the public, and that federal scientists remain free to speak about their work. Once a year, she will submit a report about the state of federal government science in Canada to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Science, which will also be made public.

The Office of the Chief Science Advisor will be housed at Innovation, Science and Economic Development and supported by a secretariat.

Grant to help U of L researcher explore genetic links to same-sex sexual attraction

Dr. Paul Vasey, a University of Lethbridge psychology professor, has received an NIH grant to help determine if genes associated with male same-sex sexual attraction are the same across cultures. For evolution to operate, behaviour needs to have a genetic component that can be selected and passed down through the generations. The big puzzle for scientists like Vasey is how a trait such as male homosexuality can be passed down when these individuals aren’t reproducing.

Vasey’s human research focuses on cultures that recognize a third gender — feminine males who are attracted to males — or what would be considered transgender in North America.

More details on the grant are available on our website.

Five questions for the man behind Canada’s Genetic Non-discrimination Act

Jim Cowan is now a retired Canadian Senator but before he bowed out he managed to shepherd Canada’s Genetic Non-discrimination Act through the political process and get it passed into law. It took 4 years and a few setbacks but it brings Canada into line with other G7 countries.

To mark Cowan’s keynote address to the September Genomics and Health Seminar, Genome Atlantic sent Cowan five questions to Mr. Cowan about his legislative achievement.

Read more on the Genome Atlantic pages.

Right turn: Immortalizing excellence in stem cell research

A statue of James Till and Ernest McCulloch was unveiled last week outside the MaRS Centre in Toronto. You can see read more and see pictures of the event on the CCRM Signals blog.

The MaRS Discovery District also announced that entrepreneur Yung Wu will be the new CEO starting on November 1st.

Tiny but mighty: Research explores how microbes can support water treatment in mining

In a partnership with Dr. Sue Baldwin at the University of British Columbia, and with funding from Genome BC, Teck Resources Limited (Teck) is exploring how to optimize the use of microbes in water treatment to reduce selenium. Selenium is a naturally-occurring substance that can be released through the mining process and impact aquatic health in high quantities. The research aims to understand which microbes affect treatment efficiency and under what conditions these biological processes could be optimized. This project is part of an extensive research and development program Teck is undertaking to address water quality in BC’s Elk Valley as part of its Elk Valley Water Quality Plan.

You’ll find more 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.

Documentary Food Evolution suggests that GMOs are…good?

There is a new documentary in town and it is causing quite a stir. Food Evolution is produced by Academy Award nominee Scott Hamilton Kennedy with Producer and Writer Trace Sheehan. It is narrated by well known science communicator Neil DeGrasse Tyson who was also a script consultant.

A good place to start to gauge some of the opinions about the documentary is at the Food Republic website which has a thoughtful review of the film. The Editor-in-Chief of Cosmos, an Australian quarterly science magazine, went to a screening of the film and came away from it with a sense that GMOs were seen as the ‘underdog’. Still with the down-under view of the film, NZ farmer Craige Mackenzie saw it during a trip to the U.S. and shared his thoughts. New Zealand does not allow genetically modified crops, but he came away wanting to know more.

The film can be streamed live on Hulu and according to the Genetic Literacy Project the online commenters came out in full force to criticize Hulu’s decision but Neil DeGrasse Tyson weighed in to defend the movie. Only fitting as the NY Times said the movie was scientists striking back. Way back in May before the film was released the bloggers at PLOS went to an advanced screening and like many subsequent reviews reminded us all that the discussion about GMOs encompasses many things well outside the actual science.

Wonder how people here in Alberta reacted to the movie? Check our Genome Alberta audio podcast compiled after the movie was screened in Edmonton.

Alberta Epigenetics Network News Up arrow

Alcohol use affects levels of cholesterol regulator through epigenetics

In an analysis of the epigenomes of people and mice, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the National Institutes of Health report that drinking alcohol may induce changes to a cholesterol-regulating gene. The researchers noted that they found an association between alcohol consumption and the changes but more study is needed to demonstrate cause and effect.

The report was published in Molecular Psychiatry or you can read the media release for a quick overview.

Darwin’s finches

A new study has found dramatic epigenetic variation between urban and rural populations of Darwin's finches in response to rapidly changing environment. The study found minimal associated genetic changes. The study assumes significance as evolutionary changes have mostly focussed on genetic mechanisms and this is one of those few studies that point heritable modifications in gene expression can happen without changes to DNA sequences.

The epigenome editors: How tools such as CRISPR offer new details about epigenetics

When neuroscientist Eric Nestler began his career 30 years ago, researchers were just coming to appreciate that addiction seems to indelibly alter the brain. Intense cravings persist even after an individual stops using drugs because, researchers realized, the cellular and molecular changes in the brain endure.

Read more at Nature.com

Genomics in Society Up arrow

To get your latest full version of Genomics in Society news, visit genomealberta.ca/newsletters
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In search of young medical geneticists

With the rise of doctor ordered genetic tests and the even more rapid growth in direct-to-consumer genetic testing, there is a need for more genetic testing for people working in a clinical setting. Medical genetics residencies and fellowships receive far fewer applications than other fields. Turning genetics into a popular field to pursue instead of a a niche specialty is a challenge we need to overcome.
Source: Boston Children’s Hospital blog

A science communicator and a science journalist walk into a bar…

The Canadian Science Writers’ Association was formed in 1970 and was almost exclusively an organization for science journalists. The media and journalistic landscape has changed considerably since then and the CSWA recently engaged in some introspection and consultation and has become Science Writers and Communicators of Canada. This blog post by Sarah Boon (who was also instrumental in the formation of Science Borealis) says that so far at least, the futures for science writers, communicators, and journalists is looking good.
Source : Watershed Moments

The genomic revolution reaches the city crime lab

DNA has been used in forensics for 25 years but the technology has made huge leaps in that time. A computer generated ‘mug shot’ based on DNA found at a crime has now been used to help make an arrest.
Source: The Atlantic

Three goodbyes in three days: Why these parents watched their children die at home

3 children, 3 deaths in the same week from the same cause. No, not a crime novel. Instead it is a gut-wrenching story of a rare genetic disease in a Utah family.
Source: Chicago Tribune

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!

Cy Frank Legacy Lectureship - Edmonton/Calgary

This year’s Cy Frank Legacy Lectureship features Dr. Tom Noseworthy, professor, Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. He will be speaking about “Innovation in Healthcare: Lines of Sight to Policy and Practice”

The Cy Frank Legacy Lectureship is a travelling lectureship organized by the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health. It honours and commemorates Dr. Cy Frank whose life was dedicated to allowing research to flourish and medical practice to progress. His many contributions to bone and joint health care as a leading orthopaedic surgeon, world-renowned researcher, teacher and tireless advocate for change have had a profoundly positive impact on the lives of Canadians. The lectureship showcases individuals whose work reflects the passion of Dr. Frank.

When: October 6, 2 – 3 pm, reception to follow.
Where: University of Alberta, 2-39 Corbett Hall, 8205-114 Street, Edmonton.
This is also being shared by webcast to University of Calgary in Theatre 4, Health Sciences Centre.


11th International Gender Summit

The Gender Summits are a series of interconnected, action-based events held across the globe since 2011. They follow the theme of “Quality Research and Innovation through Equality.” Their aim is to make gender equality in research and innovation the norm and to embed gender equality as a primary dimension of quality.

The agenda promises stimulating discussions on themes like the benefits of pluralism, Canada and its commitments to supporting diversity, diversity in an international context, diversity and leadership, perspectives from academia, society and grassroots approaches, and many more.

Members from industry, academia, research organizations, businesses, education, and other groups interested in gender equality issues are invited to follow the discussions and participate in the dialogue emerging from the Gender Summit North America 2017.

: November 6 - 8, 2017
Where: Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel, Montreal, Quebec

For more information, visit the GS11 website

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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