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More than four of five research proposals miss out on the annual $48 mln funding round for science research in the five year Endeavour program. Winners feature world-class proposals

Rural News
More than four of five research proposals miss out on the annual $48 mln funding round for science research in the five year Endeavour program. Winners feature world-class proposals

Content supplier by IRANZ

A number of Independent Research Organisations (IRO), offering research from the impact of household products on New Zealand’s aquatic ecosystems to developing nitrogen-fixing trees and grasses for our forestry and pastoral industries, have come out as winners in the Government’s latest funding round.

Several research proposals from IROs were successful in the recent Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) 2017 Endeavour Round, with their proposals seen as world-leading science.

Two of Cawthron Institute’s research programmes were awarded funding of more than $20 million over five years. Two Lincoln Agritech research programmes will receive $8.2 million, and The New Zealand Winegrowers Research Centre based in Marlborough, has been awarded $9.3 million.

IRANZ Chair Dr John Bright of Aqualinc said, “We should celebrate the excellent science that can now be done because of this funding, and the positive impact it will have on New Zealand exports, and our environment. The successful research programmes will both enhance and secure our wine and seafood industries, together worth several billions of dollars, and tackle environmental issues around nitrogen and water quality.”

Dr Bright added that IROs are an important component of a vibrant and diverse research landscape. “IROs collectively achieved success rates which match or better Crown Research Institutes and universities, but a lot of IRO proposals remain unfunded. These research proposals are for high-quality and high-impact research relating to export industries, social health and wellbeing, and New Zealand’s infrastructure and environment. If New Zealand increases its investment in research there is no doubt it will improve our economy, our society, our infrastructure and our environment.”

Protecting our aquatic ecosystems

The Cawthron Institute will test whether emerging organic contaminants (EOCs) pose a risk to New Zealand’s unique aquatic ecosystems, and their potential to accumulate in New Zealand’s highly-valued food exports. EOCs are natural or manufactured chemicals, such as endocrine disrupting chemicals and pharmaceutically active compounds, found in household and personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and agrichemicals. The use and discharge of EOCs is largely unregulated at present even though they are used daily by individuals and industries globally, with substantial amounts released into the environment.

The second Cawthron proposal to be funded will enable industry-relevant, cutting-edge research leading to efficient and timely diagnosis, prediction, and management of aquatic diseases that may impact the aquaculture industry. Aquaculture in New Zealand has been severely impacted by recent occurrences of exotic and emerging diseases and by undiagnosed stock-health issues. There is an urgent need to address these challenges to protect existing aquaculture production and to provide robust research that the industry can use to inform its decision-making as it grows and diversifies.

 “We are delighted by the announcement,” says Cawthron Institute Chief Executive Professor Charles Eason, “It represents a real endorsement of our scientists and partners and the outstanding work that they do together. In both cases, the research that will be undertaken will make a real contribution to our understanding of key science. That will in turn have a very positive impact for New Zealand.”

Symbiosis to grow better trees and grasses

Lincoln Agritech’s research programmes will find revolutionary ways of using naturally-occurring bacteria and fungi to produce nitrogen-fixing trees and grasses, and to produce stress-tolerant plants. The first of the two programmes will benefit the forestry and pastoral sectors by allowing pine trees and grasses to fix nitrogen (convert atmospheric nitrogen into plant-available mineral nitrogen) in the same way that legumes such as clover do, and by improving the plants’ tolerance to stress.

The research team plan to achieve this by optimising the natural microbial communities associated with the plants, thereby creating new symbioses between plants, bacteria and fungi.  Bacteria that fix nitrogen and that enhance plant tolerance to stress will then be combined in symbiotic association with two fungi which naturally live within plants (fungal endophytes); creating fungal-bacterial hybrid endophytes. The fungal-bacterial hybrids can be introduced to pine trees and perennial ryegrass. The combination will make the plants more resistant to stress and more able to fix and take up nitrogen. The five-year programme is considered world-leading, as no other researchers have attempted a triple symbiosis between fungi, bacteria and these plants.

The research team from Lincoln Agritech, Lincoln University, Scion and AgResearch includes scientists who have been instrumental in developing fungal biocontrol endophytes. The team will work with commercial companies, which are already producing and licensing fungal endophytes. The new fungal-bacterial hybrids will be added to their product lines.

Boosting our Pinot noir production

The New Zealand Winegrowers Research Centre programme will enable the New Zealand wine industry to grow production of Pinot noir wines without sacrificing quality. This programme will help the New Zealand wine industry’s success story continue into the future. The industry will grow production of Pinot noir wines, satisfying significant international demand from countries including the US, Australia and China for these cool climate red wines. Increased Pinot noir production will diversify the products and locations from the wine industry, which is currently dominated by Sauvignon blanc. New Zealand Winegrowers’ General Manager of Research Dr Simon Hooker says that, “Driving export growth in Pinot noir requires consistent production of high-quality wine at a price point acceptable to the customer. However, there is an apparently inextricable seesaw link between productivity and quality; our industry needs methods to produce higher yields of grapes while maintaining the quality standards currently only achieved at lower yields of grapes.

Beneficial bacteria for the wine industry

Hydrogen sulphide can be responsible for off-flavours in wine, but a clever use of sulphur-munching bacteria might solve the problem. The second Lincoln Agritech programme is a “Smart Idea” that  involves using bacteria that have two unique features: they are naturally magnetic and they have an unusual sulphur metabolism that allows them to derive energy from hydrogen sulphide. This means the bacteria can be controlled using magnetic fields and used to remove hydrogen sulphide from wine. The technology could also benefit other industries where hydrogen sulphide is an issue.

Lincoln Agritech’s CEO Dr Peter Barrowclough says that, “The recent MBIE success is a great opportunity to build on our existing biotechnology expertise, to collaborate with research partners and industry, and improve outcomes for the primary sector. Our job is to do the ‘over-the-horizon’ science to keep our primary industries competitive. We are very grateful to MBIE for supporting these research programmes, and we are looking forward to helping the wine, pastoral and forestry sectors keep their competitive edge on the world stage.”

Dr Whitney IRANZ Executive Officer reflected that, “Only 68 of the 408 proposals (16.7%) submitted to the Endeavour research investment fund were successful. For IROs (5 from 28) the 17.9% success rate was slightly better. A lot of good proposals from IROs, CRIs and Universities still remain unfunded. New Zealand can only gain from increasing its investment in the Endeavour Fund for high-impact and excellent research, which it must do if it wants to achieve a high-performing economy, world-leading social well-being and environment, and an efficient 21st century infrastructure.”

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