From Test Tube to Table: Bridging the Gap between Life Sciences and Politics, November 23, 2016, LSI, 2350 Health Sciences Mall

“From Test Tube to Table”, the second Bridging the Gap between Life Sciences and Politics Conference at UBC, invites students, scientists and interested members of the general public to debate factors that influence research directions and outcomes in the life sciences. With an emphasis on genetic engineering technologies, we will examine how novel scientific breakthroughs find their way from the test tube into the political debate and ultimately in our homes. The event aims to bridge the gap between science and politics by providing attendees with an insight on science policies, debating the complex factors behind the topic, and equipping them with a more advanced understanding. It strives to engage young scientists in politics, science policy making, and science communication.

The overall framework of the event is composed of a series of workshops, each conducted by an expert in a particular field, and a panel discussion followed by a networking reception.

This student-led conference, organized by MIGSS (Microbiology & Immunology Graduate Student Society) and supported by ECOSCOPE, will bring together leading scientists, policy experts, socioeconomic intellectuals, and entrepreneurs to discuss the interactions between life sciences, policy and the public.

One major discussion point during the panel debate will be on the implementation of new, controversially discussed technologies, such as genetically modified or engineered organisms (GMOs). Especially the use of engineered crops has caused a wide dispute between consumers, farmers, biotechnology companies, scientists, and governmental regulators. Different national regulations may add to the confusion about the risks of GMOs. For instance, most European countries banned GM crops whereas engineered plants make up the majority of agricultural products in North America. Is there sound scientific evidence that justifies or dismisses the regulations and use of GMOs? Is public mistrust incited by scandal-focused media coverage or lack of understanding? What is the influence of lobbyist on legislature? Importantly, what will such a discussion mean for the implication of genetic engineering in general and how will new technological advances, such as CRISPR, influence the debate? Is the technology at risk to be condemned?

The genetic manipulation of organisms is applied in many sectors. Engineering of microbes is a promising technology to develop and produce new drugs, biofuels, and green materials. The microcosmos, i.e. the sum of all microorganisms in diverse environments, contains an astronomic amount of genetic material. Part of modern biotechnology is to harness this potential and to engineer microbial communities for social, economic, and environmental benefits across a wide range of sectors including water, mining, forestry, energy, agriculture, and public health. These sectors represent an emerging bio-economy. Do the controversies around GMOs put the research and new technologies at risk by lack of public trust and understanding? What are the opportunities and challenges for creating such a bio-economy in BC?

We’re hoping to get some answers on these questions and are looking forward to a lively debate.

In 2015, MIGSS hosted “From the Bench to the Desk: Bridging the Gap between Life Sciences and Politics”, which was selected as a UBC Centennial initiative. This conference featured leaders in science, media, and industry. Speakers included the Hon. Andrew Wilkinson (BC Minister of Advanced Education), Dr. Jennifer Gardy (BCCDC senior scientist and CBC host), Dr. Diane Finegood, (President of Michael Smith Foundations), Dr. Helen Burt (Associate Vice President Research & International at UBC), Natalie Dakers (President and CEO of Accel-Rx Health Sciences Accelerator), Dr. Pieter Cullis (Life Sciences Institute Director at UBC), Dr. Nicola Jones (freelance journalist, editor and writer for Nature), and more. It generated significant interest and welcomed more than 150 attendees. This year’s conference aims to build on the previous success and will shed light on a discussion that influences the future of scientists, industry, and the society alike.

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