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November 1, 2017

Volume 32 Issue 3


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.

Laura Kilcrease on the TEC Edmonton Merck Accelerator

Alberta Innovates CEO Laura Kilcrease talks with Cheryl Croucher of Innovation Anthology about the potential benefits arising from the new TEC Edmonton Merck Accelerator to grow new health technology companies.

Research project aims to speed up diagnoses of rare genetic childhood diseases

A research project led by Jay Cross examining how precision medicine could help with the diagnoses and treatment of rare genetic childhood diseases, received infrastructure funding through the federal government’s Canada Foundation for Innovation program. It is one of six U of C projects totaling more than $20 million that received CFI funding.

You can find more details on UCalgary Today.

Canada continues a leader in global coalition to accelerate genomic data sharing

The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) is an international alliance of more than 500 organizations formed to accelerate the potential of genomic medicine and research to advance human health. On October 17th the GA4GH announced a major shift in its orientation to focus on specific needs of real-world clinical and research projects. Canada leads or plays a major role in at least three of the 13 new 2017 GA4GH Driver Projects: CanDIG, ICGC-ARGO and Matchmaker Exchange.

As a founding member of GA4GH, Genome Canada also announced that it would continue its investment to accelerate the sharing and use of genomic and clinical data by Canada’s multiple health-care systems.

Funding opportunity in bioinformatics and computational biology

Genome Canada has announced an upcoming funding opportunity in bioinformatics and computational biology. The 2017 Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Competition is expected to launch in December with detailed guidelines and application forms available at that time.

This funding opportunity will be aimed at supporting research projects to address any aspect of bioinformatics and computational biology, or B/CB, as it relates to genomics across all of Genome Canada’s sectors, i.e., human health, agriculture, aquaculture/fisheries, forestry, energy, mining and environment.

Applications need to be submitted through your local Genome Centre and you can find more details on our website.

Research Network on Lyme Disease

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Infection and Immunity and the Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis – in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada – are pleased to announce the launch of a new Request for Applications for a Research Network on Lyme Disease. This announcement has been hinted at regularly since May of this year and is part of a broader Federal Framework on Lyme Disease. While the details are finally here the application deadline is not until March of 2018 and you won’t hear any decision until next June.

Full information on the funding is available on ResearchNet.

You can also participate in an information webinar on November 10th from 1:00-2:30 pm EDT, but you have to register in advance.

Meet the “connected cow”

When the Internet of Things merges with the average dairy cow you’ll be surprised what you can find out. Feeding habits, rumen and udder health, movement, milk quality, and calving alerts can all be monitored remotely. Don’t know if the ‘Union of Dairy Cattle’ is worried about such surveillance, but farmers stand to reap the benefits.

 Read more in the Financial Times.

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.

The 'post-antibiotic apocalypse'

In April the World Health Organization had a bleak warning for the world. Some areas of the world already live with infection that cannot be treated with the usual antibiotics and the rest of the world is poised to be part of what they called a post-antibiotic apocalypse. Despite that warning a meeting in Berlin in early October noted that there has not been enough action take and we need to move faster and with more focus. England’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dame Sally Davies has been warning about antimicrobial resistance for some time and during the Berlin meeting was featured in several videos including one from the Globe & Mail and one from the BBC which were re-used or re-purposed across many internet sites.

The Berlin meeting and perhaps the strong language associated with ‘apocalypse’ may be responsible for many stories that appeared across the media, blogs, and social media. Always on the lookout for good science stories and with good writers on staff The Guardian newspaper dived in with a story on superantibiotics which are not really new antibiotics but are re-engineered drugs. The story also offers some insight on why pharmaceutical companies are not rushing in to fill the antibiotic void. The newspaper followed it up with an op-ed on why politicians will be responsible “if the antibiotic apocalypse happens”.

Forbes magazine drew a line between the rising problem of antibiotic resistance and the rise of pandemics such as the one in Madagascar where the country is dealing with an outbreak of the plague. It points out that diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and gonorrhea could become public health concerns if the problem of AMR is not dealt with. The Washington Post wrote about rehearsing for a pandemic that will come ‘sooner than we expect’.
(If you want to hear a chilling and not uncommon response to some of the concerns this YouTube audio might help get your science communication juices up and flowing. We normally don’t include viewpoints such as this but because the user who posted it ‘borrowed’ the Washington Post headline it was heavily linked to so we felt we should let you see for yourself some of the results of uninformed opinion)

In many of the stories about AMR agribusiness practices are cited as one of the leading contributors to the problems but an article in the Huffington Post pointed to hospitals and the waste water they send down the drains. But it doesn’t end there - plain old dirt has proved to be a culprit in spreading antibiotic resistane as well.

Don’t give up hope though - here are “Six grand ideas to fight the end of antibiotics”.


Dodgy Stem Cell Clinics

We have seen stem cell treatment stories in our trending section several times this year – usually involving clinics offering expensive and unproved procedures. This update from The Atlantic about a woman left blind after one of these treatments did not trend on its own but we think it is worth adding to our story list.


Elizabeth Holmes the founder of Theranos, has seen her personal net worth go from $4.5 billion to zero according to Forbes magazine. Theranos if you recall, was the medical testing company that promised amazing diagnostic results from a few drops of blood. The claims turned out to be not really amazing at all and Theranos has virtually disappeared after being one of our favourite trending stories. But what about the employees of the company? Forbes talked to Tyler Schultz, the staff member who first reported the company to regulators.

Alberta Epigenetics Network News Up arrow

U of T biologists discover an epigenetic key to unlock behavioural change in fruit flies

Nature versus Nurture is no longer viewed as a cut and dried pattern and we know it is a complex interaction. How the two interact however is much less clear but University of Toronto researchers have offered some new insight according to U of T News. The research team studied the foraging behaviour of fruit flies and recently published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), and the Ontario Graduate Scholarship Program

Epigenetics research may help prevent addiction relapse

Kicking an addiction may be one of the hardest things people have to face. Apart from actually taking steps to stop the abuse, there are the withdrawal symptom to deal with, and the triggers that lead to a relapse. A new epigenetic research study focusing on a key epigenetic enzyme could pave the way to handling withdrawal and understanding relapse. Researchers hope the lab work on rats may eventually help people deal with cocaine, alcohol, and opioid addiction. Here is an overview of the work from the Medical University of South Carolina, and a link to the paper in Neuron.

Epigenetic drugs that fight cancer also show promise as antivirals

Epigenetic drugs designed to fight cancer might actually be used against many viruses as well. A recent study published in the American Society for Microbiology shows that some pharmaceuticals that act epigenetically have the power to be used as broad spectrum antivirals. Specifically, the researchers looked at histone methyltransferases EZH2/1 inhibitors which can help fight against cancer. Read more on What is Epigenetics.

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 Navajo Nation might lift a longstanding ban on genetic research

15 years ago the Navajo Nation banned genetic research on its members “until such a time that a Navajo Nation Health Research Code has been amended and approved by the Navajo Nation Council”. That is now considering lifting the ban as it prepares to open a new oncology center next year.
Source: Smithsonian Magazine

Canada urgently needs diversity in science, tech, engineering and math: report

More workshops, science camps, or education won’t get more women into a career in science, technology, mathematics, or engineering. What is needed is a change in the culture or “bro mentality”.
Source: CBC and Ryerson University

Stopping the spread of anti-vax myths: There’s no quick fix

In the wake of the latest retraction of a paper linking autism to vaccinations, there is relief it has been pulled, and fear that the it has left behind some damage. This op-ed piece by Tim Caulfield suggests that a small core of anti-vaxers can still have a broad influence. You should also take the time to read the Comments section after the article. Give the intense feelings vaccine related stories tend to provoke, it is a surprisingly mixed collection of views.
Source: Globe & Mail

CRISPR Bacon: Chinese scientists create genetically modified low-fat pigs

You have to love the headline on this story about low-fat pigs created by Chinese scientists. It is an interesting development with good potential but don’t expect to see any of it in your local grocery in the foreseeable future.
Source: NPR

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!

Gairdner Symposium on Precision Medicine & Microbiome

Genome Alberta is pleased to be one of the sponsors for the Gairdner Symposium on Precision Medicine and the Microbiome. The symposium 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. The opening of the Western Canadian Microbiome Centre (WCMC) will be announced during the event and you are invited to drop by the Genome Alberta display to learn more about our involvement in microbiome research.

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

More information is available on the Gairdner website and at WCMC.

Eugenics: The (Un)Ethical Trump Card?

The Galton Institute is a learned society concerned with the scientific study of all aspects of human heredity. These include molecular genetics, genetic medicine, genetic epidemiology, population genetics and population dynamics, demographics, human evolution, elements of psychology and the statistical analysis of inherited traits.

Our annual conference this year is on Sir Francis Galton’s Legacy. Dr. Bartha Knoppers is presenting "Eugenics: The (Un)Ethical Trump Card?".

Join her at the Galton Conference.

When: 15 November 2017
Where: The Royal Society, London England.

Registration is free, and is required. Register here.

Conference agenda (PDF)

AEN Bioinformatics & Computational Biology Workshop

The Alberta Epigenetics Network, in partnership with Pacific Institute of Mathematical Sciences, is organizing a workshop at the University of Calgary to provide researchers and industry partners a platform to share current knowledge & trends, expertise, resources, and challenges in the areas of computational biology, bioinformatics, and Artificial Intelligence.

When: November 24th
Where: University of Calgary, PF-126

Registration is free but you must register by November 10th.

Mini Med School: Transplants

Mini-Medical School is designed for members of the general public who are interested in learning more about chronic diseases and topics such as Allergies, Concussions, Vaccines, Immune Deficiencies, Precision Medicine, the Microbiome, Women's Issues, and Environmental Exposures.

You won’t graduate with a medical degree after attending the Mini-Medical School series but you will gain more insight to healthy living and chronic diseases.

There are no pre-requisites to attend these lectures and they are open to the public from high school students to retirees. Each lecture will combine basic science with real life clinical situations in order to give Calgarians a better understanding of the effects of chronic diseases on the body. Each presenter is highly respected in their field of research, and is a current member of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases at the Cumming School of Medicine with the University of Calgary.

The next one is in December when Dr. Kelly Burak & Dr. Andreas Kramer discuss transplants

When: December 4, 2017, 6:30 - 8:45pm
Where: Libin Theatre at the Foothills Campus, Cumming School of Medicine with the University of Calgary.

The closest parking lot to the Health Sciences Science where the Libin Theatre is located is Lot 6.

There is no cost to attend a lecture but online registration is required.

To listen to past lectures please click here.

Should you have any questions contact Maria Gallant, Operations Coordinator at 403-220-4132 or mjgallan@ucalgary.ca.

DOE JGI Genomics of Energy & Environment Meeting

Any and all researchers and students pursuing frontier energy and environmental genomics research are welcome!
In parallel with the Meeting, the JGI will be hosting the first ever Viral EcoGenomics and Applications (VEGA) Symposium – Big data approaches to help characterize earth’s Virome. The goals of this one and a half day symposium are to bring together a “viral ecogenomics” community, i.e. experts of viral/phage genetics, structure, ecology, evolution, and (meta)genomics, to foster discussions centered on how to best capture and characterize uncultivated viruses, understand the role of viruses in natural ecosystems, and functionally explore viral genetic diversity.

When: March 13 - 16, 2018
Where: Hilton San Francisco in Union Square

For more information or to register, please visit the meeting website.
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