Aussie wheat is the best? Think again says research group

Plant & Food Research scientists say the notion that Australia has New Zealand beat in growing quality wheat is a myth.

It’s a belief which explains why so many of this country’s commercial bakers use Aussie flour rather than the home-grown product.  But “it turns out the opposite is true”, says Antonia Miller, a business manager at the Crown Research Institute.

New Zealand has been breeding wheat since the 1920s and, Antonia Miller says, the Plant & Food Research breeding programme which has run since the 1990s makes New Zealand’s milling wheat every bit as good, if not better, than the grain grown in Australia. Continue reading

Plant & Food to lead investigation into native honey

Plant & Food Research will be leading a national team of researchers looking at native honey composition and the characteristics that appeal most to consumers, thanks to new funding from the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge.

The new two-year project focuses on prominent native monofloral (single flower nectar) honey – predominantly from kānuka, rata, rewarewa and kamahi – produced by Te Pumautanga o Te Arawa (TPT) beekeeping activities on Department of Conservation areas in the Rotorua region.

The project will analyse examples of honeys from across the TPT’s different geographical regions to search for specific chemical signatures and potential unique biomarkers. It will also determine the consistency and flavours of honey that consumers prefer and consumer perceptions of Māori values and provenance. Continue reading

Plant & Food Research and Lincoln University part of game-changing gene discovery

Scientists from Plant & Food Research and Lincoln University have contributed knowledge integral to the discovery of a new gene described as a game-changer for global agriculture.

The gene allows natural reproduction by cloning in plants, allowing highly desirable traits to be carried through to the next generation rather than lost when the plants reproduce through pollination.

The New Zealand scientists have been working with scientists in the Netherlands (at research company KeyGene and Wageningen University & Research or WUR) and Japan (at breeding company Takii) to identify ways to produce plant seeds that are genetically identical to the parent plant.

The research was recently published in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics.

The newly discovered gene, named PAR, controls parthenogenesis, a process whereby plant egg cells spontaneously grow into embryos without fertilisation. Normally, the PAR gene is triggered by fertilisation, but in plants that reproduce by apomixis – a type of reproduction which does not require fertilisation – the PAR gene switches on spontaneously, so the egg cells are triggered to start dividing into a new embryo. Continue reading

Northland peanut industry is taken one step closer

A recent government-backed project proved that peanuts can be grown successfully in Northland.  Additional government funding is now facilitating the next step towards commercialisation.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is contributing nearly $700,000 to a new peanut growing trial through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures), with an additional $300,000 in cash and in-kind support from Northland Inc, Picot Productions, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, Plant & Food Research, and local Northland landowners.

“The findings of a six-month feasibility study we supported through SFF Futures late last year were encouraging,” says Steve Penno, MPI’s director of investment programmes.

“This new project will build upon the initial findings to determine whether it’s financially viable to plant, harvest, and process peanuts at scale.” Continue reading

Research to breed low-methane livestock and Plant & Food scientists are recognised    

The work of AgResearch scientists to successfully breed low methane emitting sheep, as a tool to combat climate change, has been recognised with the Supreme Award at this year’s Science New Zealand Awards.

Science New Zealand represents the country’s seven Crown Research Institutes. The annual awards recognise research excellence at each CRI.

Outstanding research by three Plant & Food Research scientists and teams – an accomplished fruit crop scientist, a consortium working on myrtle rust disease and an emerging researcher looking at foods that support human health – were recognised, too.

Dr Jill Stanley received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to plant physiology and crop science over four decades. During her career, Dr Stanley has worked on a range of crops in varied locations, including the UK and Spain, collaborated with numerous researchers and growers and now leads a team of 40 people.

Her summerfruit research has focussed on improving practical outcomes for growers by enhancing productivity and fruit quality. Dr Stanley’s work has helped growers use resources more efficiently to lift returns and has delivered quality fruit for consumers. Continue reading

Nutrient analysis of New Zealand-grown peanuts to provide marketing opportunities

The High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge has invested $45,460 in a project to determine what nutrient composition and health claims for peanut butter made from New Zealand grown peanuts can be made.

Pic’s Peanut Butter (Pic’s), a Nelson-based company, will collaborate with Plant & Food Research to supply samples of New Zealand peanuts for nutrient analysis from growing trials, with support from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund.

Plant & Food Research will analyse the nutritional composition of four samples of New Zealand grown peanuts, and four peanuts grown overseas in Brazil, Argentina, Australia and Nicaragua. The composition will be assessed against Food StandardsFood Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) regulations that relate to nutrition, health and related claims. Continue reading

Researcher Cathy McKenna wins 2021 Kiwifruit Innovation Award

Plant & Food Research’s Cathy McKenna has won the 2021 Kiwifruit Innovation Award for her work to create an effective armoured scale insect management programme for Gold3 (SunGold) Kiwifruit.

Over two seasons of trials, Ms McKenna spearheaded a research team that developed a year-round programme capable of ensuring the high level of scale control required to satisfy market access requirements.

Armoured scale are insects which can cause cosmetic defects on kiwifruit and once populations build up on vines, they are difficult to bring back down.

Ms McKenna is Team Leader, Kiwifruit Entomology at Plant & Food Research. Continue reading

Plant & Food Research scientist Dr Ron Beatson wins the Morton Coutts Award

Plant & Food Research scientist Dr Ron Beatson was awarded the prestigious Morton Coutts Trophy at the Brewers Guild of New Zealand 2021 New Zealand Beer Awards in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the New Zealand hops industry.

Dr Beatson has led the research and development of hop breeding and genetics for 38 years at Plant & Food Research. Based at the Motueka Research Centre, he recently celebrated his 50th anniversary as a Plant & Food Research scientist.

Over the past three decades, New Zealand-grown hops have built a strong reputation for novelty and high quality with the brewing industry globally. Dr Beatson has been instrumental in the research, development and release of 16 specialty hop cultivars imparting unique flavours to beer, varieties including Motueka, Riwaka, Nelson Sauvin and the recently released Nectaron® – named in part for its creator – which have placed New Zealand hops on the world stage.

Dr Kieran Elborough, Group GM Technology Development of Plant & Food Research says, Dr Beatson is a leading expert in hops research. Continue reading

Research update: the first bilberry genome assembly

Unlike cultivated blueberries and cranberries, bilberry remains undomesticated with berries harvested from the wild. This makes it perfect for genomic analysis, to provide comparisons with domesticated Vaccinium species and as a resource for breeding better berries, including bilberries.

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.), a deciduous dwarf shrub native to Europe, has provided nutrition for Northern European populations for centuries. It is one of the most economically significant wild-harvested berries in Europe prized for its flavour and health properties. Bilberries belong to the same Vaccinium genus as blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) and cranberries (V. macrocarpon).

A team of global researchers, including colleagues from Plant & Food Research, have developed the first bilberry genome assembly. It will be used as a reference to study genomic diversity in bilberries and provide information on the loci linked to adaptive traits and the phytochemical composition of the berries.

Bilberry genetic diversity has not been well understood and the phylogenetic relationship to other Vaccinium species has been relatively unknown. One key difference between blueberry and bilberry is the localisation of anthocyanins. In blueberries these are restricted to the skin but in bilberries they accumulate in the flesh. This study analysed the locus for the anthocyanin-regulating transcription factors (MYBA) and identified a complex locus controlling berry anthocyanin composition and localisation.

The bilberries sampled in the study came from above the Arctic Circle in the Sámi region of Finland. This paper will be one of the first to carry a Biocultural Notice label (BC).

The BC Notice label is a digital identifier that recognises the rights of indigenous peoples to define the use of information, collections, data and digital sequence information generated from the biodiversity and genetic resources associated with their traditional lands, waters and territories. The research was also undertaken in collaboration with Genomics Aotearoa.

The team is part of VacCap, a US-based consortium of Vaccinium researchers, and this new bilberry genome will contribute to a Vaccinium pan-genome initiative designed to improve berry fruit quality and market value.

The genome will be hosted on the major collaborator site Vaccinium.org.

Funding for the study was provided by the New Zealand Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Endeavour programme ‘Filling the Void’ (C11X1704).

Journal Reference
Wu C, Deng C, Hilario E, Albert NW, Lafferty D, Grierson ERP, Plunkett BJ, Elborough C, Saei A, Günther CS, Ireland H, Yocca A, Edger PP, Jaakola L, Karppinen K, Grande A, Kylli R, Lehtola V, Allan AC, Espley RV, Chagné D.   A chromosome-scale bilberry genome.  Molecular Ecology Resources. DOI https://doi.org/10.1111/1755-0998.1346

Source:  Plant & Food Research

Epigenetic inheritance and reproductive mode in plants and animals

Research update:

Epigenetic inheritance, a source of nongenetic inheritance, occurs when epigenetic modifications are passed on through reproduction to the next generation.

Studying the sources and consequences of epigenetic inheritance is critical to understanding nongenetic inheritance, phenotype, and the adaptive potential of populations and species. This is particularly relevant in light of rapid environmental change, where epigenetic modifications are increasingly recognised as important mechanisms to respond to stress.

A recent review led by Plant & Food Research scientists, has found that footprints on top of the DNA sequence, acquired during the lifetime of an individual, are inherited across multiple generations in plants and animals. How a species reproduces: sexually or asexually, laying eggs like fish or giving birth like mammals, influences how often these changes are inherited.

Additionally, the review shows that events that occur during the lifetime of an individual – like exposure to a toxic substance, changes in nutrition or even variations in the ambient temperature or oxygen levels – can all can be recorded as footprints in most organisms and passed to the next generation. These epigenetic mechanisms can alter gene expression and allow species to respond rapidly to their environments, much faster than changes in DNA could achieve that, by modifying their phenotypes.

The study concludes that multi-generational persistence of epigenomic patterns is common in both plants and animals, but also highlights many knowledge gaps that remain to be filled. The study provides a framework to guide future research towards understanding the generational persistence and eco-evolutionary significance of epigenomics.

Journal Reference:

Anastasiadi, D., Venney, C. J., Bernatchez, L., & Wellenreuther, M. (2021). Epigenetic inheritance and reproductive mode in plants and animals. Trends in Ecology & Evolution    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2021.08.006

Source:  Plant & Food Research