Cannabis Testing Services: A New Alternative Career Opportunity For Life Scientists

Posted in BioJobBuzz, Career Advice

Increased use of medical cannabis, coupled with a growing trend to legalize cannabis for recreational use, has created a niche for companies that offer analytical cannabis testing services.  Not surprisingly, the cannabis testing market is dominated by North American companies with an annual market size of roughly $822 million in 2016 (1).  The size of this market is expected to reach approximately $1.4 billion by 2021 (1).

Typical services offered by cannabis testing companies include:

  • Potency testing
  • Terpene profiling
  • Pesticide screening
  • Residual solvent screening
  • Heavy metal testing
  • Genetic testing
  • Microbial analysis

Most of these analyses involve the use of standard laboratory instruments (and related software packages including 1) liquid chromatography (LC), 2) gas chromatography (GC), 3) mass spectrometry, 4) atomic spectroscopy and 5) automated DNA sequencing/genomic analyses.

While the analytical services offered by these companies may sound esoteric to  lay cannabis audiences, they are very familiar to life scientists with backgrounds in biochemistry, organic chemistry, molecular biology, pharmacology, botany, plant pathology and a host of other life science disciplines.  That said, the rapid growth of the cannabis testing industry has created job opportunities  for life scientists who are trained and skilled in the above mentioned analytical methods.

Industry leaders in cannabis analytical services  who may be looking to hire new employees can be divided into two distinct categories; companies that develop hardware and software to conduct the analyses and companies that actually provide analytical services to clients.  Companies involved in hardware and software development  include:

  1. Agilent Technologies Inc (hardware/software)
  2. Shimadzu Corporation (hardware/software)
  3. PerkinElmer, Inc (hardware/software)
  4. Millipore Sigma (hardware/software)
  5. AB Sciex LLC (hardware/software),
  6. Waters Corporation (hardware/software)
  7. Restek Corporation (hardware/software)

Leading companies that offer analytical services to clients include:

  1. Accelerated Technologies Laboratories Inc (hardware/software)
  2. LabLynx Inc. (hardware/software)
  3. Steep Hill Labs, Inc (analysis)
  4. CannaSafe Analytics (analysis)
  5. Pharm Labs LLC (analysis)
  6. Digipath Labs, Inc (analysis)

Because  the number of traditional life sciences job continue to decline and remain highly competitive, now may be a good time for entry level life life scientists to consider a career shift to the cannabis testing services market. However, do not wait or linger.  This market, like the traditional life sciences job market may be quickly  over subscribed!

References

  1. Cannabis testing market expect to reach $1.4 billion by 2021. http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/cannabis-testing.asp Accessed August 7, 2017

Alternate Career Options for Life Scientists: Persons Able to Manipulate "Big" Data Sets Will Be In High Demand Says New Report!

Posted in BioJobBuzz

An article in today’s NY Times entitled “New Ways to Exploit Raw Data May Bring Surge of Innovation, a Study Says” suggests that persons with quantitative skills and a firm grasp of the scientific method will be in high demand in the near future. This is because there is a current data surge coming from “sophisticated tracking of shipments, sales, suppliers and customers, as well e-mail, Web traffic and social network comments.” And, the quantity of business data has been estimated to double every 1.2 years!

According to the report “Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition and Productivity” put together by the McKinsey Global Institute, harvesting, managing, mining and analyzing “big new data sets” can lead to a new wave of innovation, accelerated productivity and economic growth. And, the place where this may be felt first is the US healthcare system. The report asserts that better management of big data sets can lead to as much as $300 billion in savings. Also, American retail companies could possibly increase their operating profit margins by as much as 60 percent. However, one of the major hurdles to this paradigm shift is a talent and skills gap. The US alone will likely need 140,000 to 190,000 with expertise in statistical methods and data-analysis skills. McKinsey also notes that an additional 1.5 million data-literate manages will be required. Accordingly, “Every manager will really have to understand something about statistics and experimental design going forward,” noted one of the report’s authors.

As far as jobs for scientists in the healthcare realm are concerned, the report suggests that

“….the biggest slice of the $300 billion gain is expected to come from more effectively using data to inform treatment decisions. The tools include clinical decision support to assist doctors, and comparative effectiveness research to make more informed decisions on drug therapy.” That said, life scientists with backgrounds in statistical analyses, bioinformatics, genomics, public health, epidemiology and quantitative analysis will be ideal candidates for these new job opportunities."

While these types of jobs (mainly health informatics) are certain to available in the future, it isn’t clear how soon. This is because the big-data trend has just begun and, according to economists, it may take years to recognize its financial advantages and benefits. In any event, it is something for life scientists who may be considering alternate career options, to think about. To that end, if you begin to train for these opportunities now, you may find yourself in the right place at the right time in the not-to-distant future.

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!

 

The Future: DNA Identify Theft?

Posted in BioBusiness

Advances made in DNA sequencing technology and genomic analysis has lowered the cost of sequencing a genome from millions of dollars a decade ago to less than $500 today. And, because of this, there are a growing number of companies that are willing to quickly and cheaply sequence and analyze your DNA. While this may be medically beneficial and appealing to some, it may not be for everyone. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, who will control access to and insure the privacy of your genetic information if you choose to have your genome sequenced and analyzed. 

Alan McHughen, PhD, a molecular biologist and Professor of Botany and Plant Sciences at the University of California-Riverside, who has previously written about privacy and access to personal genomic data, wrote an article for BioJobBlog that explores the ramifications and possibility of DNA identity theft in the future. Also, he has written a book ‘Pandora’s Picnic Basket; The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods’ to refute the myths and explore the genuine risks of genetic modification technology

Genetic Privacy

By Alan McHughen

For just $399 (plus shipping and handling), the scientists at 23and me.com will scan your complete genome. The DNA analysis reports on 118 different medical and health dispositions, your maternal and paternal ethnic ancestry, and a curious bunch of genetic trivia concerning your persona (is your earwax sticky or flaky?). All you do is pay the money and spit into a collection tube; they extract your DNA from the spit and look for half a million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) scattered throughout your genome, including many in or near genes associated with particular traits. Other companies offer similar services. For example, Decodeme.com charges $985, but catalogs twice as many SNPs, and you collect your DNA with a cheek swab.

Alternatively, if you don’t need the complete genome scan but are curious about specific medical conditions or family lineage, you can get less expensive gene tests from an increasing number of companies willing to take your money and DNA sample in exchange for the genetic information their scientists reveal. If heart disease runs in your family, you may either relieve or exacerbate your anxieties by shelling out $200 to have a cardio scan for relevant genetic predispositions. Or, for as little as $99, a man can have his Y chromosome probed to confirm his place in the family patrilineage, and possibly connect to ancient and famous princes or pirates.

These genetic information services, with prices now well into recreational and hobby budget range, provide the most personal, private — and unchangeable— information possible about you. The sinister side of this fascinating field is all too often overlooked—it can reveal your most intimate genetic details to strangers and nosy neighbors. While the various testing labs assure confidentiality, there is little to no control over personal genetic information. In the US, anything you discard is salvageable by anyone else, and your trash can become another’s treasure if it carries blood, saliva, hair, semen or any other DNA-laden bodily secretions.

While we worry about identity theft, personal financial or other private information, our uniquely personal information is up for grabs. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008 offers some protection, but it is limited to employment and medical insurance issues. GINA does not protect your genetic information from being abused by life insurers. Or nosey neighbors. 

Genetic privacy raises a whole spectrum of social, ethical, legal and medical issues. Suppose your neighbor salvages your trash and has your DNA analyzed. This local gossip then shares the juicy news that you have a “higher than average predisposition” to, say, alcoholism. Soon, everyone in the community shuns you as a latent alcoholic, and you have no idea why. The community knows more about your genetic makeup than you do. And, because they don’t know how to interpret statistical language such as “a higher than average predisposition”, those conditions may easily be exaggerated into probabilities, if not certainties.

If people have a right to know their own genetic information, they have the obverse right to NOT know. People can choose to remain ignorant about their genetic makeup. Consider, for example, Huntington’s disease (HD). This death sentence is one of the few health conditions almost due to genetics, and the DNA assay has been available for years. Curiously, most people at risk, i.e., those with HD in their direct lineage, choose NOT to take the test; they prefer not to know until (or if) symptoms appear. What happens when the local busybody lets the cat out of the bag on HD? Word will get around and the at-risk person will inevitably find out, if only by the ‘different’ treatment by neighbors, thus obliterating the exercise of their right to remain ignorant. Whether the test result is positive or negative on HD is immaterial at this point, the rights will have been violated. The DNA test for HD is currently more elaborate than the simple SNP analysis, but because SNPs associated with HD are being reported, it’s only a matter of time before they come generally available.

Perhaps you’ve suspected the woman down the street had a child from an adulterous one night stand a few years ago, and the cuckold husband remains a doting, if clueless, dad. Now, with just $89 (including overnight FedEx delivery!) and a little misdemeanor creativity, well within the standard ethical bounds of busybodies, you can satisfy your suspicions with a surreptitious and discrete paternity test. And, to provoke some real excitement in your sleepy small town, show the results to the husband.

A few minutes of thought and discussion generates many other issues and examples of the precarious security of personal genetic information and identity, and the potentially dire consequences of genetic information getting out. Society is yet to discuss the privacy issues surrounding genetic identity as vigorously as we have with personal financial or medical records. It’s getting late. Do you know where your DNA is?