Cell-based agriculture – biotech summit to discuss the future of clean food

New Zealand produces enough food to feed 40 million people worldwide – almost 10 times its own population, but the way this food is produced, says BiotechNZ executive director Dr Zahra Champion.

The world cannot feed its children’s children with the food systems currently in use, she says.

In the next 25 years, all the additional food the global growing population requires will come from improvements to current food systems, before they reach capacity limits.

But BioTechNZ and AgriTechNZ are leading an event in Palmerston North on August 4 to discuss cell-based agriculture which can create products from cell cultures as opposed to whole plants or animals. Continue reading

Lincoln researchers receive grants to develop treatments for Batten disease

Two Lincoln University researchers, Dr Nadia Mitchell and Dr Samantha Murray, have been awarded three grants totalling more than $477,000 for research into the understanding and treatment of neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis, or Batten disease.

There are 13 forms of Batten disease, a family of fatal neurodegenerative diseases primarily affecting children.  Each is caused by the lack of a particular gene and there is no cure.

The disease, often appearing early in a child’s life, causes brain degeneration manifesting in devastating symptoms including vision loss, seizures, dementia, abnormal movements and inability to communicate. Sufferers typically die in their teens.

The research grants have been awarded by Batten Disease Support and Research Association (BDSRA) Australia, Cure Kids New Zealand and Neurogene Inc (USA).

Drs Mitchell and Murray are developing a gene therapy that appears to slow and even halt the progress of the disease in sheep with a naturally occurring form of the disease.

Dr Mitchell explains:

“The brains of sheep with Batten disease shrink, as do the brains of humans with the condition. When we replace the missing gene in affected sheep before they display symptoms, in most cases the disease can be prevented. When we replace the gene after the sheep begin to display symptoms, the therapy slows the progress of the disease.

“The implications of our research are hugely significant, and offer considerable hope to the families of Batten disease sufferers.”

Dr Mitchell’s team is working with an American pharmaceutical company, Neurogene Inc, to gain US  Food and Drug Administration approval to begin the first human trial of the gene therapy for a common form of Batten disease.  If the trial is successful it is hoping similar treatments and delivery routes can be tested in patients with other forms of the disease.

Patients are currently being recruited for the trial from around the world.

While Neurogene Inc is the principal sponsor, Cure Kids New Zealand funds Dr Murray’s project grant to better characterise the retinal disease in affected sheep. Technical support for both projects will be enabled by the awarding of the BDSRA grant.

BDSRA spokesperson Dr Ineka Whiteman said the organisation was pleased to award their grant to Dr Mitchell and her team at Lincoln University.

“The research being undertaken by Dr Mitchell and her team is truly world-class, and will help provide the essential data required for translating animal model research into human clinical studies.”

Source:  Lincoln University

Research grant awarded to investigate high-value products made using hemp seed oil by-products

Greenfern Industries, a Taranaki-based medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp venture, is part of a group that will investigate ways to turn hemp seed hulls into high-value products destined for the global export market.

The partnership has been awarded $145,000 in cash and in-kind funding for research into products created from the by-products of hemp seed oil processing.

Greenfern will work alongside industry partners Callaghan Innovation and Hemp Connect as part of the project funded by the Bioresource Processing Alliance (BPA), which, in turn, is funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. BPA invests in research and development projects with the aim of generating additional export revenue for New Zealand by working with the primary sector to get better value out of biological by-products.

Greenfern’s industrial hemp is currently grown in Central Otago and Taranaki and the company has plans to expand hemp seed farming to double its crops this year. Continue reading

Lab-grown plant tissue might ease the environmental toll of logging and agriculture

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have proposed a way of growing certain plant tissues, such as wood and fibre, in a laboratory

Still in its early stages, the technology is to cultured meat — an opportunity to streamline the production of biomaterials.

The researchers say the technology might one day help reduce the environmental footprint of some types of agriculture.

ScienceDaily, in its report, says it takes a lot to make a wooden table – grow a tree, cut it down, transport it, mill it … and so on.

It’s a decades-long process.

MIT researcher Luis Fernando Velásquez-García suggests a simpler solution:

“If you want a table, then you should just grow a table.” Continue reading

NZ ranks fourth in the world for biotech innovation potential

A new national biotech survey report says New Zealand is positioned well in the world, ranking fourth for innovation potential in biotechnology.

The landmark BiotechNZ study analysed the state of biotechnology and its impact and benefits for the New Zealand economy and society. The report is the first biotech ecosystem map for New Zealand and is a comprehensive study into the state and future opportunities for biotech.

It highlights the importance of biotech and how it can contribute to New Zealand’s economic growth and diversification, as well as its ability to help make New Zealand cleaner, healthier and more prosperous.

Growing global demand for biotechnology has led to the development of a global market that is expected to be worth $US729 billion by 2025. Continue reading

Research team is working on greedy algae that are great for our environment

Phosphorus supports photosynthesis, a process which is positive for terrestrial plants. But the same mechanism causes algal growth and the pollution of aquatic ecosystems.

This unwanted effect can be mitigated if the aquatic microalgae fertilised by phosphorus pollution are contained and harvested.

It’s a solution that has global application because microalgae thrive in ponds used by farmers and rural communities around the world to treat their wastewater effluents.

But wastewater treatment ponds do not currently remove phosphorus because the biomass generated during the degradation of organic pollutants can only assimilate small amounts of phosphorus and the biomass itself is not removed following treatment.
Continue reading

Developing a NZ Bioeconomy is “20 years overdue”

It is time to get serious about using New Zealand’s capability and expertise in waste management, forestry, farming, wood processing and horticulture, if New Zealand is to build economic resilience and achieve a low carbon NZ economy by 2050, says Grant Dunford, Bioenergy Association Board member.

Through use of existing biomass and organic waste New Zealand can build economic growth, employment, business resilience and sustainability in its regions while replacing 92 PJ per annum of fossil fuels and avoiding 8.6 Mt CO2 -e pa of greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

Continue reading

New Zealand is urged to adopt a biotech strategy

New Zealand urgently needs a biotech strategy because it is critical to the future of the country’s economy, BiotechNZ executive director Zahra Champion says.

The global biotechnology market is expected to reach more than $US727 billion within six years, according to a new report by Grand View Research in San Francisco.

Dr Champion says New Zealand once had – but now does not – a biotech strategy.

“Our government must understand that biotech is vital to the future of our economy. Last week many Kiwi agritech and biotech-related companies featured at a massive international agritech-biotech conference in Melbourne.

“AgritechNZ wants to strategically reposition and restructure the direction for New Zealand to build a world class agritech ecosystem. Many of the new technologies in agriculture are from our BiotechNZ group.

“These include companies like A2 Corporation which has developed systems which has improved protein in Anchor milk. AgResearch in Lincoln is producing grass that grows 50 per cent faster and more resistant to drought.

“Look at the work Indigo has developed that will significantly reduce emissions from agriculture by increasing pasture fed milk and meat production. We need to nurture more companies like that.

“Biotech is a high-value sector which relies on leading science, innovation and manufacturing. It is a sector that is protected by intellectual property rights, strict regulatory guidelines and a highly-skilled workforce. It is one of the few manufacturing sectors that can’t be easily eroded by lower cost economies.   

“There are compelling reasons why biotech should be snapped up by a positive new government policy after years of New Zealand lacking a clear national strategy.

“We need to consider many animal, human and environmental health pressures and reduce and generate value from waste. For a country so reliant on the primary export sector, we need to build a world class biotech-agritech ecosystem.

“We don’t want to fall behind. Look at the Investment Corporation of Dubai which has just put $US203 million into agritech investments and another $200 million from Japanese firm Softbank which is one of the world’s largest firms.

“New Zealand’s agricultural, environmental and economic future will rely on the success of our biotech sector which needs more focus from government. It is time for a more strategic, all of government approach and a shared national strategy,” Dr Champion says.

Source:  Make Lemonade 

  • Make Lemonade writes news releases to attract mainstream media attention. It promotes news of benefit to the New Zealand public and only supports organisations, people and companies that positively impact our community.


Visiting expert speaks on gene technology for food, agriculture and biosafety

GE Free New Zealand has posted news of Dr Jonathan Latham touring New Zealand from September 1-9 and raising issues around the future impact of gene editing in this country.

He will talk on the politics of food and address issues of internal culture of decision makers, and the legal framework that is often fraught with industry influences opposing precautionary decision-making, even when the science clearly points to danger.

Food Matters Aotearoa is hosting Dr Latham in New Zealand directly after his tour of Australia and Hawaii, said tour organiser Claire Bleakley

“There is documented evidence of the unpredictability of genetic engineering but also mounting pressure for new gene technologies to be used with no regulatory supervision and this is an opportunity to hear about the implications they could have on our health and environment.”

Dr Latham will be speaking in Featherston, Wellington, Palmerston North, Raglan, Hamilton, Tauranga, Auckland and Hastings.

Jonathan Latham, PhD, is a prominent international advocate for public interest science. He is co-founder and Executive Director of the Bioscience Resource Project and the Editor of Independent Science News and Director of the Poison Papers project which publicises documents of the chemical industry and its regulators.

Dr Latham holds a Masters degree in Crop Genetics and a PhD in Plant Virology. He worked at the Department of Genetics in the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA. He has published scientific papers in disciplines as diverse as plant ecology, and toxicology.

More information can be found  HERE.

Source:  GE Free New Zealand


Local government powers to constrain GM projects may be revisited

Scientists should keep an eye on new legislation aimed at restoring the promotion of social, cultural, economic and environmental well-being of communities to the statutory purpose of local councils.  The legislators may be pressed to strengthen local authority powers to determine what happens in their regions on issues such as genetic modification

Two new Bills also aim to re-introduce the ability of councils to collect wider development contributions and make it easier for them to bring in online voting.

The Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Bill is the one designed to restore the “four well-beings” to the statutory purpose of local government.

Previous National-led administrations had narrowed the statutory purpose of local government to focus only on service delivery and not broader community well-being, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said (see HERE)

“By inserting the four well-beings back into the Local Government Act we acknowledge the valuable role local leadership has to promote the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of citizens and communities,” she said.

“We are confronted with various challenges as a country such as the impact of population growth, climate change and ageing infrastructure. Quality of life outcomes as well as regional growth and prosperity require a broader focus in the way councils meet the challenge of setting priorities and planning for the future.”

There are implications for the constraint of research involving genetic modification.

Before the election, Labour said it would  maintain the status quo of new GM techniques requiring EPA approval for use.

Labour also declared it would maintain the ability of councils to decide on economic grounds whether and where release and commercial use of GMO plants and animals is allowed.

It would also protect farmers who do not wish to adopt GM technology by ensuring the liability regime for use of GMOs that cause harm is strengthened.

Green Party policy is that genetic engineering should occur only in a contained laboratory setting.

“Our food and environment should be GE Free,” the Greens say.

A second Local Electoral Matters Bill addresses the design, trial and analysis of new voting methods for local elections, and will make it easier to trial electronic voting, including online voting.

In November last year, GE-Free Northland expressed its delight after Federated Farmers withdrew two “vexatious” appeals to the Court of Appeal to challenge GMO provisions in the Northland regional policy statement and the council’s right to have the region declared GE-free. 

GE-Free Northland, along with appellant Whangarei District Council and other interested parties including Tai Tokerau mana whenua and the Soil & Health Association, at that time had successfully defended the right of local authorities to manage the outdoor use of GMOs in their region after Federated Farmers sought a ruling in 2015 that the Northland Regional Council had acted outside the law. 

Federated Farmers had argued that the Environmental Protection Authority had sole responsibility for the regulation of GMOs under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, and disputed the right of councils to put in place precautionary GMO provisions, and the right of local mana whenua to identify Issues of Significance.

The Northland Age reported (HERE):

The broad suite of interested parties standing behind the Whangarei District Council, the robust existing case law (unequivocal decisions by both Principal Environment Court Judge Newhook in 2015 and Justice Mary Peters in the High Court last year) and recent amendments made to the RMA (confirming the High Court ruling) had led the federation to the view that they were likely to have materially reduced the prospects of the appeal succeeding, he said.

A spokesman for GE-free Northland, Martin Robinson, said:

“Parliament acknowledged last April that local councils can regulate or ban outdoor use of GMOs under the Resource Management Act, in keeping with the wishes of farmers and other ratepayers.”

Councils across the country accordingly were now free to act on their duty of care to their constituents and the environment, putting in place a much-needed additional tier of local protection against the risks of outdoor use of GMOs, Mr Robinson said.

Whether the Government might be pressed to make sure councils are free to act on these matters by fortifying their powers is among the questions raised by the announcement of new legislation.