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Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Group

This returning group facilitates communication and shares current research among faculty and students interested in examining genomics and bioinformatics from a critical social sciences and humanities perspective.

Promissory claims abound about the benefits of genetic information to inform and improve health, environment, and industry practices. Since the 1970s, governments and industry have promoted the mapping and manipulation of DNA as an avenue to fuel, feed, and heal the world. In 2003, the completion of the human genome project stimulated the development of other large-scale DNAsequencing projects for bacteria, plants, and mammals. With computer technology and bioinformatics, large-scale genomic consortium produce DNA sequences at impressive rates. DNA is also currently used to store and transmit digital data. As synthetic biology continues to evolve and mature, genetic information can be used to create new forms of life.

Scientific experimentation and industry application have run ahead of analysis in the social sciences and humanities, leaving gaps in our understanding of the social, political, and ethical implications of genomic and bioinformatics applications. The stakes could not be higher and the need for critical engagement more urgent. As science and technology studies scholar Sheila Jasanoff explains, “science exerts power in part by turning the myriad pathways for living that humanity has evolved over millennia into singular channels that have undeniable value for segments of the human community…but these ‘solutions’ may not speak to the fundamentals of the human condition, and they may err or produce unintended consequences through premature simplification.” (2019, 179) Genomic and bioinformatics technologies raise important questions about the risks, governance, and ownership of genetic resources.

Current regulatory regimes have yet to keep up with the pace of technological change and lay publics are often unaware of the scope, speed, and significance of techno-scientific advances.

Proposed Activities

The group will meet monthly from September 2019 to March 2020 to discuss published research, present work in progress, draft future grant applications, and host one guest speaker. Faculty and grad students at University of Calgary interested in the social dimensions of genomic technologies will be invited to participate. We have convened initial participants across a range of academic appointments – including tenured and pre-tenured faculty, research associates, and graduate students. We will continue to recruit additional participants through our shared networks and email list serves. This working group will provide a space to connect researchers from humanities, social sciences, health, and natural sciences to support interdisciplinary conversations.

Conveners:

Gwendolyn Blue, Associate Professor, Geography. SSHRC funded research examined public engagement with climate change. Current research supported by Genome Canada examines the social and policy implications of genomic assisted tree breeding to address the challenges of climate change in the forestry industry. ggblue@ucalgary.ca

Mél Hogan, Assistant Professor (Environmental Media) Communication, Media and Film. Dr. Hogan’s SSHRC funded work examines the materialities of data storage, from hard drives to DNA. mhogan@ucalgary.ca

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