Legacy Statements

After over five years of planning, the Congress came and went all too quickly. The feedback from presenters, delegates, partners and exhibitors was overwhelmingly positive, but we have asked for feedback on what enduring benefits have emerged from the Congress. Here are some of the answers we have received.

ALIGN (Australian Alliance for Indigenous Genomics)

ALIGN was generously supported by the International Congress of Genetics to hold their inaugural symposium as a satellite meeting adjacent to the XXIII ICG in Naarm, Melbourne.

The ALIGN Satellite Meeting was a full day event, featuring international leaders in the field of Indigenous Genomics encompassing Aotearoa, Canada, the United States and Hawaii. The ALIGN network was well represented from across the breadth of Australia, with a total attendance of close to 60 participants. The program delved into international efforts and key issues in Indigenous Genomics and showcased the intent and plans of ALIGN and the different jurisdictions. Over the course of the day, and in the following ICG meeting, participants took the opportunity to increase their understanding of this sector, both nationally and internationally, and to build new collaborative partnerships for much needed work in this space.

Following on from the ICG, ALIGN has established a number of key working groups to look at some of the critical issues identified during the satellite and ICG meeting, such as ethics, clinical trials access, benefit sharing models, and legal mechanisms to protect data sovereignty. These working groups are developing solutions, with learnings gained from our international colleagues, which can be shared with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for their consideration and further co-design. This work is progressing, and we expect that outcomes will be shared in 2024.

Further, the ALIGN Satellite Meeting served to consolidate important partnerships with health service providers, including Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs), who are working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. These partnerships have allowed ALIGN to better understand this sector, and what support is needed to effectively implement genomics into the health system in a culturally appropriate way. We anticipate the establishment of an International Indigenous Genomics Federation in the months following the meeting.

Beyond the connections with our international family, the ICG highlighted the critical and unique opportunities that Indigenous Genomics affords and informs global efforts in genomic variation, diversity, inclusion, ethics and cultural facets of genomic science and health care. ICG and the conference faculty and organisers facilitated significant discussions with stakeholders, clinicians, researchers, and industry partners across the global genomics community, to commence planning for truly equitable genomics for all populations across the world.

The ALIGN Satellite Meeting, held in conjunction with the XXIII International Congress of Genetics, was an excellent opportunity to bring the ALIGN network together with international leaders in genomics. The learnings, vison, and collaborations that resulted from this opportunity will be instrumental to achieving ALIGN’s mission; to work collectively to develop a framework – designed by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people – to deliver the benefit of genomic medicine to all.

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Australian Genomics Summit

Australian Genomics held their summit at the Congress and were actively engaged in the wider Congress program. Here are their comments on the Congress.

The International Congress of Genetics and Genomics 2023 in Melbourne, was a transformative event for genomics – both internationally, and for Australia. In bringing together the genetic and genomic community from around the world, ICG2023 showcased preeminent minds in the field, and brought together delegates to share knowledge and experience, and to establish new collaborations. With the focus of Australian Genomics on human health genomics, ICG2023 was an exceptional opportunity to engage with colleagues in the field, and to benefit from advances in human population genetics, and particularly Indigenous Genomics. The broad engagement across the sector, including from the Department of Health and Aged Care, is testament to the significance and impact of ICG2023.

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Biodiversity Genomics Australia
Biodiversity loss is one of the biggest global threats facing humanity. Genomic analysis has a major role to play in the identification, maintenance and protection of biodiversity. Thus, there was a rich vein of content on biodiversity genomics in the core Congress program. The Congress also hosted a workshop that served as a launch for Biodiversity Genomics Australia, a movement that is being built to lobby the Australian Federal Government to establish a body that would fund biodiversity genomics research.

This meeting attracted over 120 delegates from around the world. The program was designed to highlight the capacity of genomics applications to provide valuable data for the identification, protection and management of Australia’s biodiversity. You can access the program and abstract volume here.
For more information on Biodiversity Genomics Australia please go to their website or download the brochure distributed at the Congress here.

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Genomics Update: New Technologies and Clinical Cases

Image supplied by Melbourne Genomics

A professional development workshop accredited by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners was held for GPs, specialists, nurses and other health professionals interested in genomics in clinical practice. Recognizing the rapidly growing influence of genomics in diagnosis and patient care, the event was organized by Dr Amy Niselle (Genomics Workforce Lead, Genomics in Society, Murdoch Children's Research Institute), Dr Sibel Saya (Primary Care Cancer Research Group, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne) and the Congress, Co-Convenor, Professor Philip Batterham. 51 registrants attended on the day. A detailed program for workshop including speaker profiles can be found . The success of this event has contributed significantly to the planning of future specialty-specific events.

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Impact on the International Genetics Community

The hosting of the International Congress of Genetics is auspiced by the International Genetics Federation (IGF), the members of which are national Genetics societies. In the process of the Melbourne Congress being organized, several societies joined/re-joined the IGF – societies from Argentina, Chile, France, Israel, Nigeria and Uruguay. A new society was formed – the Genetics Society of West Africa. At the Congress a new IGF Executive was elected, one that was more globally representative than any that have preceded it with members from Australia, Argentina, Brazil, China, Germany, Ghana, United Kingdom and South Africa. The Congress Co-Covenor, Professor Phil Batterham, was elected President. Important discussions were held on increasing engagement with genetics communities in low to middle income nations. One outcome of these discussions was a commitment to establish an ongoing free online seminar series that would connect African and European genetics research communities and, beyond that, the development of a free online 24 hr global genetics conference.

The Congress hosted the presentation of the most prestigious prize in Genetics, the Gruber Genetics Prize. The presentation of the prize and the addresses given by the recipients were webcast around the world from Melbourne. This can be viewed here.

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The organizers placed a strong emphasis on creating opportunities for delegates to have meaningful dialogue with speakers and each other. For many delegates the Congress was their first post-Covid face to face experience of a large conference. There was a palpable buzz of excitement in conversations happening in and around the Congress. The large networking spaces in the huge Exhibition/Poster Presentation and Catering space were very well used. In survey responses, many delegates took the opportunity to say that their research would be changed by their Congress experience through the development of collaborations, the implementation new ideas stimulated by listening to speakers or in conversations and the adoption of new technologies that they had learned about. The current exponential growth in Genetics is being fueled by new technologies that were well presented in the Exhibition and in the daily workshops that Congress partners ran.

The Congress provided an unrivalled opportunity for students and early career researchers to attend and participate in a prestigious international meeting. The long-term impact of this experience remains to be seen but, for many, is likely to be significant.

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Public Impact

There was a large public participation program linked with the Congress. The program touched on a wide range of topics that impacted, fascinated or concerned members of the public. The program was engaging, creative, and stimulated dialogue. The events included vital conversations on biodiversity loss, the use of genetic tests to predict and prevent/treat life threatening diseases, the genetics of human sex differences, the experiences of women in science and the interface between faith and science. With the Congress being held on the cusp on the Women’s World Cup in soccer played in Australia and New Zealand, there was an engaging discussion in Genetics and Sport. Several of these events were broadcast/webcast with recordings available via media partners and the Congress website. An absolute highlight of the public program was the spectacular world premiere of the oratorio, Origins. Given the extraordinary audience response to the performance, and the critical acclaim received, Origins is sure to be performed time and again around the world. You can view the performance staged as a part of the Congress public program here.

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Satellite Meetings
The Congress provided the impetus for three satellite conferences to be held in Australia. Details on these meetings can be found here.

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Summer internship for Indigenous peoples in Genomics Australia (SING Australia)

SING Australia was grateful to be able to participate in the International Congress of Genetics in Narrm (Melbourne) from a booth provided by the organizers in the Exhibition space. The opportunity to engage with speakers, delegates and sponsors at the Congress was valuable and assisted in developing networks, platforming Indigenous genomics and promoting the mission of SING Australia. Industry partners within the genomics community were able to have discussions on ways to improve their engagement with Indigenous communities. SING members were able to share the importance of strengthening participation of Indigenous people within genomic disciplines. Several human-genomics researchers and institutions were already aware of concerns when working with Indigenous genomic data, but were unsure of where to start. Being present at ICG allowed SING to share resources to improve their research approach and potential outcomes from their work with Indigenous Australians. SING members also held discussions with several international researchers who had limited understanding of the SING global network. The importance of these conversations was being able to direct the researchers to existing SING organizations within in their country and supporting indigenous early career researchers. Other significant discussions with the international genetics’ community included the potential to develop and support new SING programs in other countries. Environmental DNA and conservation genomics are increasing in scientific spaces. However, it is not widely understood that plants, animals, land, and waterways are integral to Indigenous knowledge systems, culture and spirituality. We are pleased to say we had productive conversations and interactions with several researchers who work with eDNA. It was highlighted in these conversations the importance of reference genomes and the recognition that Indigenous knowledge associated with a species is both culturally and scientifically valuable. SING 2024 is aiming to have an environmental focus to foster this discussion for the benefit of future Indigenous conservation in Australia.

SING Australia used the Congress to highlight the upcoming workshop occurring in Boorloo (Perth) in December 2023. This event attracted a record number of applications. Thirty-one Indigenous students and scholars came together on Whadjuk Noongar Boodjar country for this, the third SING workshop. The week included topics such as laboratory sessions, genetic counselling, cancer research and data sovereignty. Among the highlights was a bush foods discussion with Elders from the Telethon Kids Institute. SING members were able to extract DNA from local wattle seeds in accordance with local Elders’ permissions and hold discussions on how genomics can be beneficial to research in bush food sustainability.

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Women in Science

The organizers made and delivered on a commitment that at least half of the invited speakers would be women. This was noted by delegates who were variously encouraged or excited.

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