Mycoplasma bovis update: one new dairy property tests positive

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ testing programme has identified one new property as positive for the bacterial cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis.

The newly identified property is a Van Leeuwen Dairy Group farm which was already under a Restricted Place notice under the Biosecurity Act.

Response Incident Controller Stephen Bell says the disease doesn’t always present symptoms and often doesn’t show up through just one test.

The ministry therefore has developed a testing protocol which tests herds up to three times at three to four week intervals.

Testing like this, over two to three months, “gives us the confidence we need that we have definite results for each farm,” Mr Bell says.

“This latest detection is evidence of that protocol working.

“It has meant there has been a long period of disruption and uncertainty for farms that are being tested but we have to be absolutely thorough in diagnosing positive and negative farms. It’s important for New Zealand that we take that time to get accurate results”, he says.

The testing programme for Mycoplasma bovis has resulted in over 26,000 of the planned 39,000 tests being completed by the ministry’s Animal Health Laboratory at Wallaceville.

These tests have been focused on the infected properties, stock movement traces from and to those properties, and the neighbouring properties. No adjacent properties have yet been identified as infected.

Officials have also been taking a multi-layer approach to testing to find how far Mycoplasma bovis might have spread.

District-wide surveillance in Waimate/Waitaki has been part of this. Bulk and discard milks were collected from approximately 260 farms in the area and tested. All these results are now back and no further infection outside the Van Leeuwen Group has been found on farms in this area.

There has been a nationwide testing programme, too. Samples of mastitic milk have been collected from regional labs across the country for testing.

Approximately 2,300 samples have been received but tests have not identified infected farms elsewhere in New Zealand.

Mr Bell says taken together, these results are encouraging, suggesting the ministry’s surveillance plan is working “and this disease is not spreading in the local area around the infected farms and is not widespread across the country”.

While the sampling and testing programme continues, the ministry is also preparing for what might happen next.

This involves preparing plans for the different possible scenarios. Eradication is one of the scenarios.

“We hope to have a clear picture by mid-October,” Mr Bell says.

“If samples continue to test negative for Mycoplasma bovis and if the evidence is pointing to the infection being contained to the current properties and not having spread wider, we would expect to have sufficient confidence to assess whether this disease can be eradicated.”

“We know this is an enormously stressful time for the impacted farmers and also for the wider farming community. We are carrying out all our work with urgency to limit the impact on the farming community as much as possible.

More information on Mycoplasma bovis can be found HERE. 



Reminder about awards ceremony for NZ Research Honours

The Royal Society Te Apārangi is sounding a last call to scientists wanting to attend the presentation of the 2017 New Zealand Research Honours.

The honours recognise excellence and outstanding leaders from throughout New Zealand by awarding medals in research and applied research across all disciplines.

This is the final week to buy tickets to the event which this year is also the 150th Anniversary celebration.

The society was established by an enactment of the New Zealand Institute Act on 10 October 1867.

Over the years since then the society has grown and evolved to be New Zealand’s national academy for research and scholarship, charged with exploring, discovering and sharing knowledge for the benefit of us all.

In this 150th year of the society, the annual Research Honours awards ceremony is being held on the exact date of this anniversary.



Tue 10 October 2017

6:00 PM – 10:30 pm


ANZ Viaduct Events Centre

161 Halsey Street,

Viaduct Harbour


Lincoln Agritech researchers in team to use bacteria in revolutionary ways

A new Lincoln Agritech research programme will find revolutionary ways of using naturally-occurring bacteria and fungi to increase the availability of nitrogen to plants and improve plants’ tolerance to stress.

A second programme will work towards naturally removing “off” flavours in wine.

Lincoln Agritech is an independent multidisciplinary research and development company owned by Lincoln University.

Biotechnology Team Manager Dr Richard Weld, who is leading the research, says the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has awarded the programmes a combined $8.2m.

The first of the two projects will benefit the forestry and pastoral sectors by allowing pine trees and grasses to 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.

Dr Weld says this can be achieved by optimising the natural microbial communities associated with the plants, thereby creating new symbioses between plants, bacteria and fungi.

“We will select bacteria that fix nitrogen and that enhance plant tolerance to stress,” says Dr Weld. “These bacteria will then be combined in symbiotic association with two fungi which naturally live within plants.

“After this, 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 take up nitrogen.”

Dr Weld says the five-year programme is world-leading – 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.

The second research programme involves using bacteria with two unique features – they are naturally magnetic and have an unusual sulphur metabolism that allows them to derive energy from hydrogen sulphide. This means they can be controlled using magnetic fields and used to remove hydrogen sulphide from wine, which can be responsible for “off” flavours.

Dr Weld says the research will use the wine industry as an exemplar, but the technology can benefit other industries where hydrogen sulphide is also an issue.

The programme involves researchers from Lincoln Agritech, Plant and Food Research, Aix-Marseille University, France and will take place over a two-year period.

Industry participants in the project include Agrimm Technologies Ltd, Agriseeds Ltd, ArborGen Inc, Grasslanz Technology Ltd, Indevin NZ, KonoNZ, Lake Taupo Forest Management Ltd, NZ Forestry Owners Association, NZ Wingrowers, PGG Wrightson Seeds, Rayonier Matariki, and Timberlands.

Global research uncovers new ecological threats from neonicotinoid pesticides

Neonicotinoid pesticides pose severe threats to ecosystems worldwide, according to new information  in an update to the world’s most comprehensive scientific review of the ecological impacts of systemic pesticides.

The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP) released the second edition of its Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Effects of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems today in Ottawa, Canada. It synthesizes more than 500 studies since 2014, including some industry-sponsored studies.

The review also considered fipronil, a closely related systemic pesticide used in Europe.

Neonics are toxic even at very low doses. They are water soluble and do not readily degrade in soil, resulting in sustained and chronic exposure in terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Extensive and routine application of neonics in agriculture is causing large-scale environmental contamination and a significant threat to biodiversity.

Neonics, which are linked to the steep decline of bees, also have the potential to contaminate our food systems. A closely related systemic pesticide, fipronil, is at the centre of a growing food safety scandal in Europe after high levels of the toxic insecticide were detected in egg products sold in 15 EU states, plus Switzerland and Hong Kong.

Millions of eggs have been recalled from shops and warehouses across Europe out of concerns that contaminated eggs pose a serious safety risk to consumers.

The updated assessment confirms that neonics have major impacts and represent a worldwide threat to biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services.

First introduced in the 1990s, neonics are now the most widely used insecticides in the world. Agricultural applications include seed treatments, soil treatments, foliar sprays and turf products.

Neonics are also used in forestry, flea treatments for pets and domestic and commercial lawn-care products.

“Today’s findings reiterate the need to stop massive uses of systemic pesticides, including most urgently their prophylactic use in seed treatment,” said Jean-Marc Bonmatin, research scientist at France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and TFSP vice-chair.

“The use of these pesticides runs contrary to environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. It provides no real benefit to farmers, decreases soil quality, hurts biodiversity and contaminates water, air and food. There is no longer any reason to continue down this path of destruction.”

The report is composed of three papers reviewing new data on the mode of action, metabolism, toxicity and environmental contamination of neonicotinoids and fipronil; the lethal and sublethal effects of neonicotinoids and fipronil on organisms and their impacts on ecosystems; and the efficacy of neonicotinoids and fipronil in agriculture and alternative approaches to pest control.

“Only a tiny fraction of pesticide use serves its purpose to fight pests. Most simply contaminates the environment with extensive damage to non-target organisms,” said Faisal Moola, an adjunct professor of ecology at the University of Toronto.

In 2013, the European Union imposed a moratorium on certain uses of imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam on bee-attractive crops, and is now considering a proposal to extend this moratorium. France’s new biodiversity law includes a provision to ban all neonics starting in September 2018.

“Overall, the global experiment with neonics is emerging as a clear example of pest-control failure,” Bonmatin said.

“Governments around the world must follow the lead of countries like France to ban neonics and move toward sustainable, integrated pest management models, without delay.”

The TFSP’s 2017 update will be published in a forthcoming edition of the scientific journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

Retired scientist pleads for more post-publication peer review

Science blogger Ken Perrott is pressing for greater post-publication peer review.

Peer review is often touted as the reason for accepting the veracity of published scientific studies, he says – but how good is it really?

Does it ever match the ideal picture people have of it? And what about peer review before and after publication – are we neglecting these important stages?

Dr Perrott is referring to the collective process of evaluating ideas and presentations together with scientific colleagues.

He says –

It’s great when it happens. Ideas flow and the critiques help prevent mistakes from persisting

This happens during discussion of research proposals and of research results. It happens during preparation of presentations.

But, unfortunately, it does not always happen – in fact, I suspect it may be relatively rare. When scientific reforms were introduced into New Zealand almost 30 years ago I noticed some scientific colleagues became less forthcoming about their ideas and research proposals. An air of competition seemed to destroy the previous cooperation.

Maybe things are better now. Hopefully, there is less completion between individuals and within groups and institutions – although I imagine the competition between institutions will always be a problem. Quite apart from competing for grants humans simply identify with their own groups and fall victim to the “them vs us” problem.

Dr Perrott believes some of the best reviewing of a draft paper actually comes from colleagues before submission.

That is why I strongly appreciated the institutional requirements I experienced that a draft paper be peer-reviewed within the institution before submission.

Unfortunately, not all institutions require this. I sometimes think many universities which don’t require this are taking “academic freedom” too far.

Perhaps some scientists see this as only landing extra work on them – but surely knocking a paper into better shape before submission is beneficial to both authors (getting a better draft) and institutes (maintaining a reputation with journals).

Peer review is organised by the journal, of course  – but it can be very bad, Dr Perrott says.

I am sure many poor-quality papers slip through to be published simply because reviewers do not do a good job or spend insufficient time on that job.

Personally, my impression of reviewers and journals drop when I see reviewers comments indicating a lack of attention or responsibility. Even worse, when I have had a paper accepted by an editor saying the reviewers had no comments I seriously questioned the quality of the journal and the advisability of submitting to it in future.

Still, when an author gets conscientious reviewers and comments indicating the paper has been read carefully an author can’t help but be appreciative – even if it means more work knocking the paper into shape.

Once a paper is published, the authors move on, their job done, and readers tend to be very accepting of published papers because peer review means the paper’s findings must be trustworthy.

Dr Perrott challenges this confidence and suggests the slogan “reader beware” applies just as much to scientific literature as it does to the news media.

He advises readers to do their own due diligence, consider all papers critically and avoid automatic acceptance.

Formal post-publication peer review does occur – but it is not as common as it should be.

Dr Perrott is retired after training as a chemist, building a research career in surface chemistry, soil science and fertiliser chemistry, and working in the DSIR (Chemistry Division and Soil Bureau), MAF, MAFTech and AgResearch.

His full article can be found HERE.

Callaghan student grants breaking records

Callaghan Innovation has approved the 2017/18 round of Student Experience Grants, with 139 businesses to offer 358 students paid work over the summer break.

A record 179 businesses applied for 418 internships

Since Callaghan Innovation was established in 2013, 274 different companies have been approved for an Experience Grant. As a result, over 800 students have undertaken an R&D Experience placement.

The grants support undergraduate students studying science, technology, business, engineering or design to gain valuable work experience during the summer student break. They provides funding of $18 an hour for up to 400 hours of work.

The programme is available to businesses of any size that have a focus on research and development. More information is available HERE.

Endeavour Fund to invest $248 million in 68 research projects

Funding of $248 mijllion over the next five years has been awarded for 68 new science research projects through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s 2017 Endeavour Fund.

The fund is intended for transformative initiatives with a strong potential to improve a range of outcomes for New Zealand.

As part of the 2017 fund round, up to $15 million a year in total will be invested in 41 projects under the ‘Smart Ideas’ initiative over the next three years.

Up to $43 million a year in total will be invested in 27 ‘Research Programmes’ over the next five years.

Successful funding proposals include improving NZ Pinot noir production (New Zealand Winegrowers) and  exploring new technologies to improve weather forecasting (MetOcean Solutions Limited).

A quick tally by AgScience suggests AgResearchy secured $24,999,999 of funding, Landcare Research $9,749,999, Lincoln Agritech $12,213,045, Massey University $$9,854,328 and Plant and Food $150,000.

The successful proposals were selected by the Science Board, an independent statutory Board, following a review by independent experts. The new research contracts will begin on October 1.

More information on the successful  proposals can be found HERE.