Plant & Food team rewarded for rescuing the kiwifruit industry


Dr Bruce Campbell – Plant and Food Research Psa Team Leader, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

A tribute has been paid (HERE) to the work of the research team that helped the New Zealand kiwifruit industry claw its way back from the brink of destruction after the discovery of Psa (Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae), a vine-killing disease.

This work has won the 2017 Prime Minister’s $500,000 Science Prize for the multidisciplinary team from Plant & Food Research, led by Chief Operating Officer Dr Bruce Campbell. The team’s success and other awards can be found HERE.

The award of New Zealand’s most valuable science prize recognises the team’s rapid and successful response to Psa, which was discovered in the Bay of Plenty in late 2010. Grower livelihoods and the economic viability of rural areas dependent on the kiwifruit industry were threatened.

Plant & Food Research promptly mobilised a team of more than 100 people, grouping the top scientific brains within the organisation together to multiply the team’s effectiveness as it moved ahead at speed.

The industry’s recovery was facilitated by the development of a new kiwifruit cultivar ‘Zesy002’, referred to by growers as Gold3 and sold around the world as Zespri® SunGold Kiwifruit. SunGold was in the initial commercialisation phase and, after an intensive screening programme, was found to be tolerant to the disease.

Hundreds of genetically diverse varieties from the breeding programme were screened and evaluated to find plant variety cultivars that had increased tolerance to the disease and also met grower requirements and consumer demands for taste.

Forty-eight million trays of the new variety were sold last season, with an export value of $686 million, up 70 percent on the previous year and increasing by around 10 million trays a year as newly-grafted vines reach production. It is estimated that less than half the economic and social benefits would be achievable without SunGold.

The team was also able to develop molecular diagnostic tests, a world-first and a breakthrough in the fight against Psa. This enabled rapid testing of orchards to inform management plans and provided a mechanism to screen new cultivars.

A range of agrichemicals was also tested to aid orchard management, along with new orchard management practices to minimise the spread of the disease.

Dr Campbell says his team knew it needed to find a solution that could be rolled out quickly to growers so they could maintain their businesses.

“Rural areas like the Bay of Plenty, Northland and other growing areas faced the threat of having a whole lot of low-value land use that wouldn’t sustain them in the way they had previously enjoyed from high-value kiwifruit,” he says.

“It was also important to give banks, which had invested heavily in the industry, confidence to see a future and know that science would provide an answer.”

A recent report from the University of Waikato forecasts that by 2030, the industry will have created 29,000 new jobs in New Zealand and tripled GDP contribution to more than $6 billion. This includes 14,000 new jobs in Bay of Plenty and increased Māori investment and jobs in the industry.

Having to operate in a demanding situation really has put the team in a world-leading position in dealing with Psa and sets an example for responses to pest and disease incursions in the wider horticultural industry, Dr Campbell says.

The prize money will be invested in developing the next generation of science technologies to protect plants against biosecurity threats and to develop New Zealand as a hub for bioprotection technologies, seeking to attract world-leading international collaborators and expertise from the human medical, animal and plant disease fields.

“It will help to accelerate the strong positioning of New Zealand internationally as the pre-eminent area for ensuring food security,” says Bruce.

Readers can watch a video that includes more about the science involved.

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From left: Erik Rikkerink, Mark Andersen, Mike Manning, Kerry Everett, Mike Currie, Bruce Campbell, Ross Ferguson, Joy Tyson



Prime Minister’s Science Prizes announced

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods today announced the winners of the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes.

The awards, presented by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Parliament, are:

Prime Minister’s Science Prize: $500,000 – awarded to Plant & Food Research (team entry, led by Chief Operating Officer Dr Bruce Campbell)

• Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize: $200,000 – awarded to Dr Carla Meledandri, University of Otago

• Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize: $150,000 – awarded to Sarah Johns, Nelson College for Girls

• Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize: $100,000 – awarded to Damian Christie, SciFilms

• Prime Minister’s Future Scientist Prize: $50,000 – awarded to Jonathan Chan, Auckland Boys’ Grammar School.

Dr Woods congratulated the recipients and their families, supporters, colleagues and friends.

She said the awards are a chance to celebrate the achievements of some of New Zealand’s top scientists and draw attention to the impact that science has in our society and all our lives.

“All the recipients here today are role models who play a part in inspiring others to become involved with science. I want to congratulate all of the award winners on their commitment to promoting science.

“As with previous winners, those receiving awards today will go on to become excellent ambassadors for science here in New Zealand and overseas,” says Megan Woods.

You can learn more about the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes HERE.


Entries are open for PM’s Science Prizes

Entries for the 2016 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes are open, with changes to some entry criteria.

Applications close at 5pm, September 16.

The Prime Minister’s Science Prize, $500,000

This will be awarded to an individual or team for a transformative scientific discovery or achievement, which has had a significant economic, health, social and/or environmental impact on New Zealand or internationally

The Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize, $200,000

This will be awarded to an outstanding emerging scientist who has had their PhD conferred within the past eight years (i.e. from 1 January 2008 onwards)

The Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize, $150,000

This will be awarded to a registered teacher who has been teaching science, mathematics, technology, pūtaiao, hangarau or pāngarau learning areas of the New Zealand curriculum to school-age children in a primary, intermediate or secondary New Zealand registered school.

The Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize, $100,000

This will be awarded to a practising scientist who can demonstrate an interest, passion and aptitude for science communication and public engagement, or to a person who has developed expertise in public engagement with, or communication of, complex scientific or technological information to the public or science community.

The Prime Minister’s Future Scientist Prize, $50,000 tertiary scholarship

This will be awarded to a Year 12 or Year 13 student for outstanding achievement in carrying out a practical and innovative science, mathematics, technology or engineering project.

To apply or for more information go to, or contact The Prime Minister’s Science Prizes secretariat Debbie Woodhall, on 04 470 5762 or

Search under way for 2015 winners of PM’s Science Prizes

Entries have opened for the 2015 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes, which will award a total of $1 million to New Zealand’s top scientists and researchers.

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce says the prizes celebrate scientific achievement, highlight the impact science has on New Zealanders’ lives, and aim to attract more young people into science careers. 2015 is the seventh year the prizes will be presented.

A total of five prizes are awarded each year. The Prime Minister’s overall Science Prize of $500,000 will be awarded to an established scientist or team of scientists for a transformative discovery or achievement. Other prizes will go to a top emerging scientist ($200,000), a leading science teacher ($150,000), a leading science communicator ($100,000), and a secondary school student who is excelling in science ($50,000).

“The prizes play a key role in delivering on the Government’s commitment to encourage more students into science and technology-based careers,” Mr Joyce says.

“They also aim to inspire our scientists by celebrating world-leading research occurring here in New Zealand which is vital for our economy, our society, and our international competitiveness.”

The 2014 winner of the Prime Minister’s Science Prize, the top award, was a 28-member team of scientists who have worked nationwide for more than 15 years to address issues related to poor-quality housing, particularly as it affects vulnerable groups such as children and those with chronic health conditions.

Top awards from previous years have been for work in the areas of inductive power transfer technology, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, superconductivity, climate change science, and food innovation.

Entries can be lodged up until 31 July 2015.

More information can be found here.