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November 1, 2018

Volume 36 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.

Genomics on the Hill

On October 24th, Canada’s Genome Centres spent the day meeting with parliamentarians and hosting a reception to showcase many of the important projects from across the country. The event took place in Centre Block from 4:00pm – 7:00pm. Opening remarks came from The Honourable Rosa Galvez, Senator who is also one of Canada’s leading experts in pollution control and its effect on human health. She described genomics area of science with a great deal of promise and which is already showing an impact on improving the health and wellbeing of Canadians.

Senator Galvez introduced Genome Canada CEO Marc LePage and Kate Young, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Science & Sport who talked about the important role of science in society. While the speeches were going on we were delighted to see Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan who had her schedule open up at the last minute so she could attend for at least part of the event.

There were a number of researchers from across Canada on hand to highlight their Genomics Enterprise funded research and representatives from the Centres were also in attendance, including Genome Alberta CEO David Bailey, pictured at left. There were about 120 people who attended the reception and they were able to attend Question Period before the reception where Nick Whalen the MP for St. John's East, NL, read a member statement to the House.

2019 Inductees of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

Six new names have been added to the prestigious roster of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

The late Dr. G. Brock Chisholm, Naranjan S. Dhalla, James A. Dosman, Jacalyn Duffin, Connie J. Eaves, and Rémi Quirion will be officially recognized at a ceremony held in association with McGill University Faculty of Medicine on May 2, 2019 in Montreal.

Digging deeper into the responsible application of genomics research

Genome BC has announced new project funding through its Societal Issues Competition. The projects announced in this second round of funding will examine societal issues related to agrifood and natural resources. The initial round of funding in 2017 focused on societal issues related to human health.

Anonymous donation to B.C. Cancer one of the largest gifts in Canada from an individual

The BC Cancer Foundation announced a historic $18.346 million philanthropic grant from the Aqueduct Foundation on behalf of an anonymous donor that aims to transform treatment for people facing metastatic cancer. The funds will fuel a world-leading Molecular Imaging and Therapeutics program at BC Cancer spanning research and development of cutting-edge radiopharmaceuticals through to clinical trials.

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.

Elizabeth Warren Releases DNA Results on Native American Ancestry

President Trump has often mocked Senator Elizabeth Warren over her claim that she has Native American ancestry. The President has referred to her as “Pocahontas” many times and says she has used her ancestry claim to her advantage. He even offered to contribute a million dollars to her favourite charity if she took a DNA test to prove it. Well she did and the result does show evidence of Native American ancestry 6-10 generations ago according to stories in the New York Times and Boston Globe.

There is more to the story than just politics however, and that stood out in our keyword searches and social media streams. It has been a series of stories and links about the genetics and cultural issues underneath the politicking.

We’ll start with a series of Tweets from Kim TallBear, an Associate Professor in Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta and a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience & Environment. The 47 Tweets in the feed date back to June of 2016, but the headlines this week prompted Ms.TallBear and others to dig out the thread and it was linked to extensively. You can find it on Wakelet or on @KimTallBear ‘s feed. In the thread she points out we need to understand basic genetics and tribal enrollment rules and the role of both in Senator Warren’s claim. Getting some renewed attention across social media was a 38 minute Sapiens podcast from August 2018, also featuring Kim TallBear. The segment "Is Your DNA You" has an anthropological perspective on commercial DNA testing.

In an interview in New Scientist in 2014 Kim Tallbear said that genetic testing is a “blunt tool” and that tribal identity runs deeper. With the latest headlines, the media is calling Ms.TallBear once more and in this CBC story she says the news is 'another strike against tribal sovereignty'. If you want to know more about tribal identity, National Public Radio station KUOW brought together Ms. TallBear and a postdoc anthropological geneticist for a 28 minute interview and phone-in. As part of its national coverage NPR interviewed Chuck Hoskin, the Cherokee Nation secretary of state who said that determining who is Cherokee is more than DNA. Vox too emphasised that there is more to heritage than your DNA and we should be aware of the caveats to ancestry test results.

The conservative website the Daily Caller (founded by Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel) wasted no time getting in on the discussion and said that statistically Elizabeth Warren has less “Native American blood than average white American”. The Gene Expression blog added some science to the discussion by looking at the report prepared by Carlos Bustamante which the Senator made public and The Verge said “No matter what Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test shows, there’s no genetic test to prove you’re Native American”.

As the days have passed since Warren’s announcement the focus of the conversation shitted somewhat as in this article from The Atlantic. Has the announcement and release from the Senator given some credence to the idea of race being a genetic fact because let’s face it, most of the public is not going to read the nuanced discussion and instead will stick the their favourite website and headlines.

We’ll give the final word to the Globe and Mail which said "Ms. Warren’s purposeful ignorance, on the other hand, is far more telling than one-1024th of her blood".

Goop Update

The Goop ‘Wellness Summit’ has come and gone from Stanley Park in Vancouver. Workout sessions, cocktails, and talks were part of the $400.00 per person event. There was of course also the opportunity to by products to help add to the coffers of Gwyneth Paltrow’s $250 million dollar company because that could well be about the only benefit to buying a Jade Egg or Sex Dust. Or you could have tried out the Hot Dog Water – if you wanted to be part of making a statement about the whole wellness fad at least.

Read the article from Global News which includes a couple of videos. Well known Goop critic Tim Caulfield puts in an appearance in one of the videos.

Alberta Epigenetics Network News Up arrow

Epigenetic influence of poor diet on early onset of puberty

Poor diet and obesity is associated with onset of early puberty, which is known to lead to various cardiac, metabolic diseases and cancers. A new study now shows that this may be in part due to epigenetic influences mediated through Sirtuin 1 (SIRT1), a fuel-sensing deacetylase. Studies have shown that SIRT1 delays female puberty by epigenetic inhibition of the puberty-activating gene, Kiss1 under normal conditions. This inhibition is removed as puberty approaches. In overnutrition this SIRT1 inhibition of Kiss1 is removed much sooner. In contrast, undernutrition raises SIRT1 levels, protracts Kiss1 repression and delays puberty.

Transmission of characteristics and life influences from father to offspring by epigenetic mechanisms

Maternal epigenetic inheritance is well documented and various studies have identified epigenetic mechanisms by which information s passed from mother to offspring. The possibility of such inheritance through sperms is unlikely as sperms are packed with protamine packaging instead of nucleosome. However, a new study shows that C. elegans sperms have a mixture of protamine and histones. Transmission of such marked histones allow for sperm-transmission of paternal influences that can influence the next generation in C. elegans. The study opens the possibility of such transmission from fathers to offspring.

Rahul Kohli, University of Pennsylvania There's a better way to decipher DNA's epigenetic code to identify disease

A new method for sequencing the chemical groups attached to the surface of DNA is paving the way for better detection of cancer and other diseases, according to research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. These chemical groups mark one of the four DNA “letters” in the genome, and it is differences in these marks along DNA that control which genes are expressed or silenced.

Read the media release and the research as published in Nature Biotechnology.

“It was there all along”: Situated uncertainty and the politics of publication in environmental epigenetics

Drawing on two ethnographic examples from a laboratory study of a group conducting environmental epigenetics research on suicide risk, the authors examined the ways in which researchers go about making credible claims in the face of a range of profound uncertainties.

Genomics in Society Up arrow

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Canada’s top 50 research universities

University of Calgary and University of Alberta made it into the top 10 in the latest Re$earch Infosource list of research universities. See the complete list and the various rankings and scorecards on the Re$earch Infosource website.
Source: Re$earch Infosource

New test rapidly identifies antibiotic-resistant superbugs

A new test called DETECT has been developed at the University of California, Berkeley. Researchers say it can diagnose patients with antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in a matter of minutes.
Source: PhysOrg (includes a 3 ½ minute video) or the original paper in ChemBioChem

European parliament approves curbs on use of antibiotics on farm animals

Last week the European Parliament passed a law to limit preventative use of antibiotics on groups of animals, open the door for regulators to designate certain medicines for human use only and and encourage new research and protections for new drugs. The new rules will have consequences outside the EU as it also imposes restrictions on imports. The new rules come into effect in 2022.
Source: The Guardian

Medical crowdfunding for scientifically unsupported or potentially dangerous treatments

“Medical crowdfunding involves using social media platforms to appeal for help in paying for medical care. The largest medical crowdfunding platform, GoFundMe, reported that all campaigns raised $3 billion by 2016, an increase from $1 billion in 2015.1 Although medical crowdfunding campaigns can fill insurance gaps, they can also raise money for scientifically unsupported, ineffective, or potentially dangerous treatments.” This paper quantifies crowdfunding activity for 5 such treatments.
Source: JAMA Network and MinnPost

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!

Connecting Canada's Stem Cell Research Community

The Till & McCulloch Meetings are Canada's stem cell research conference. The Till & McCulloch Meetings provide an opportunity to meet and network with Canada's leading stem cell scientists, clinicians, bioengineers and ethicists, as well as representatives from industry, government, health and NGO sectors from around the world.

WHEN: November 12-14, 2018
WHERE: Westin Ottawa Hotel, Ottawa, Ontario

The 2018 Till & McCulloch Meetings are hosted by the Stem Cell Network and CCRM.

Conference details are available online.

Workshop on science writing in an age of reconciliation

In conjunction with Curiosity Collider and the Genome Alberta sponsored Science Borealis blogging network, the Science Writers & Communicators of Canada are presenting a workshop on what science writers can learn from indigenous community members about better representation and relationships. The workshop will cover ways journalists and communicators can start meaningful conversations and explore unconscious bias to frame their writing in a time of reconciliation.

: November 17, 2018
WHERE: Victoria, BC

Deadline for registration is November 15th. More details are available on the Science Borealis website.

Antimicrobial Resistance Conference

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has become a major challenge in our globalized world and tackling it will take the combined resources and effort of researchers working across different disciplines.

This meeting will highlight the importance of Big Data and genomics in the fight against AMR. It will showcase recent advances in the rapidly emerging field of machine learning to predict AMR, approaches to monitor and evaluate the global burden of disease, novel technologies for the diagnosis of drug-resistant infections, and the use of pathogen genomics to address critical questions relating to surveillance, epidemiology, transmission and treatment of drug-resistant infections.

WHEN: November 27-29, 2018
WHERE: Wellcome Genome Campus, Hinxton, UK

For more information, registration and program details, visit the conference website.
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