$13 million for leading-edge biotech research in the Bay of Plenty

Dr Marie Magnuson

Dr Marie Magnuson … turning algae into tucker and tonics.

The Government and the University of Waikato are investing $13 million in a new research programme in Tauranga aimed at helping tackle some of the biggest issues facing New Zealand’s primary sector, Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced today.

The project, part of the Entrepreneurial Universities programme administered by the Tertiary Education Commission, will be set up in Tauranga by a prominent Australian-based expert, Dr Marie Magnusson.

The Government is committing approximately $4 million over five years to the programme, while the University of Waikato has pledged $9 million.

The work will focus on algal biotechnology, using science to grow a new and valuable industry.

Mr Hipkins said this type of research and technology

” … will be critical as we look for solutions for things like reducing cattle methane emissions, limiting nutrient run-off from pasture, and fighting agricultural and horticultural diseases in an environmentally sustainable way.”

The first stage of the project will examine options for growing macroalgal species like kelp and sea lettuce alongside existing mussel farms. Later stages will extract valuable bioproducts for use in fertilisers, animal feed supplements, cosmetics, human foods and other initiatives.

Other goals include addressing some of the country’s pressing primary sector issues by reducing methane emissions from cattle through improving feed, and creating environmentally benign solutions to agriculture and horticulture pathogens like PSA.

Dr Magnusson, who will move to Tauranga from Queensland, will lead a team of new researchers and technical staff, guided by University of Waikato staff including Chair of Coastal Science Professor Chris Battershill.

They will be based at the Coastal Marine Field Station at Sulphur Point in Tauranga, with work due to start in September.

Relying on strong science, the products the researchers develop will be targeted for markets where there is demand, with an eye to industry development, and future job creation in the Bay of Plenty and the rest of the country.

New Zealand’s aquaculture industry was worth nearly $500 million in 2015, and is estimated to grow to $1 billion by 2025, with the project aiming to contribute significantly to that growth.

The initiative will work with organisations locally, nationally and internationally, and partner with private companies where appropriate. Staff will work with local iwi and Māori businesses in the region as a priority.

The University of Waikato will be backing the research and entrepreneurial work with an increase in undergraduate and graduate teaching, including offering an Aquaculture major.

Over the next three years, the initiative is expected to bring from 15 to 20 world-leading researchers and their teams to New Zealand.

Biography of Dr Marie Magnusson

Dr Marie Magnusson is a Senior Research Fellow in the James Cook University College of Science and Engineering with over 10 years of experience in the fields of algal biology, biochemistry, and product development.

She completed her B.Sc. in 2003 at Göteborg University in Sweden followed by an M.Sc. in 2004. Her Ph.D. (2005-2009) was at James Cook University in phycology and marine pollution.

Following her graduate studies, Dr Magnusson undertook two post-doctoral fellowships at James Cook University in microalgal biomass evaluation and macroalgae end product research and development.

Dr Magnusson is currently Program Leader and Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Macroalgal Resources and Biotechnology (MACRO) at James Cook University.

Her research is focused on ways to utilise algae (macro and micro) and algal extracts to develop human food and nutraceutical and pharmaceutical products for improved health outcomes, and to develop biotechnology products based on algal polysaccharides with unique gelling and functional properties.

Sources: Minister of Education; University of Waikato

 

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Biosecurity warning sounded: new pastures may create future weed threat

Breeding new fast-growing grass varieties that produce more seeds and are resistant to drought, pests, grazing and disease may inadvertently be creating the next generation of invasive weeds, an international team of researchers has warned.

As the global demand for dairy and beef escalates, farmers are increasingly seeking ways to reap greater productivity from their pastures.

The problem, according to Philip Hulme, Professor of Plant Biosecurity at Lincoln University and lead researcher at the Bio-Protection Research Centre, is that in making grass varieties more robust, they are more prone to becoming a problem for the environment.

The researchers have made four biosecurity recommendations for government, industry and researchers.

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