New research highlights differences in New Zealand beef

Pasture-raised beef is a cornerstone of the New Zealand meat industry. But do we really understand the benefits we get from the meat when it is raised this way?


New research from the Riddet Institute indicates there are differences in meat quality relating to health and digestion, depending on how the animal is raised.

A research team led by Dr Lovedeep Kaur and Dr Mike Boland s from Massey University’s Manawatū campus compared the digestion differences between pasture-raised New Zealand beef to grain finished beef, and a plant-based alternative.

To mimic the human digestive tract, researchers used simulators in the laboratory to observe the differences.

They found differences in the fat content of the beef, potentially leading to better health outcomes. Continue reading

Research on the toilet training of cows aims for positive environmental impacts

The headline on a recent press statement from Massey University showed what great things emerge from state-funded research, although it seemed to state the obvious:  New research highlights the benefit of injury prevention measures in Māori households.

Was research really required to demonstrate the benefits of taking steps to prevent injuries in Maori households – or any household, come to think of it?

Introducing a few common-sense safeguards – you might think – would be as beneficial to the wellbeing of householders, regardless of race, as putting on warm clothing when the temperature drops or looking for oncoming traffic before crossing the road.

Ah – but now we know that relatively low-cost modifications in homes can prevent 31 per cent of fall injuries.

The cost of the study (if our researchers got it right) was $786,851.52 and the money came from the Health Research Council, which is funded by taxpayers. Continue reading

Lord Rutherford is remembered and our royal society launches a competition (but not necessarily for scientists)

The 150th birth anniversary of Ernest Rutherford, New Zealand’s most celebrated scientist and the country’s first Nobel laureate, was noted by RNZ, and by some newspapers and universities.

On RNZ’s Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, the programme host talked about Lord Rutherford with  Professor David Hutchison, the director of the Dodd Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies.

Stuff featured an article by Nelson reporter Tim Newman under the headline Ernest Rutherford: From humble beginnings to New Zealand’s greatest scientist

This referenced an obituary in the New York Times on October 20, 1937, which described Lord Rutherford as one of the few men to reach “immortality and Olympian rank” during his own lifetime. Continue reading

Soilsafe Aotearoa – scientists offer free garden soil tests for Kiwis

A nationwide project to investigate the soil beneath our feet has been launched by scientists and New Zealanders are encouraged to send in samples of their own garden soil for analysis.

Soilsafe Aotearoa is a major new research programme being run by the University of Auckland in partnership with GNS Science. Dr Melanie Kah, from the University’s School of Environment, says so far around 70 people have registered interest and 15 have sent in soil samples.

“We’re really excited to have the programme underway, it’s a major undertaking and we hope a wide range of kiwis will be keen to get a better idea of the soil in their own backyards,” she says.

“We expect gardeners to be particularly interested but the project is open to anyone who has a bit of soil around their home, whether it is a small patch of lawn or a lush vegetable garden.

“The soil testing will be done free of charge so we really encourage people to send us samples.”

Soilsafe aims to help better understand New Zealander’s relationship with the earth and nature, what we grow in our backyards and includes a wider education programme on soil health and community attitudes.

People wanting to have their soil tested will be asked to fill in a short survey and will receive a detailed report on heavy metals such as lead detected.

Almost all urban centres across the world have legacies of lead petrol and lead-based paint use and although these paints have been replaced by more environmentally friendly versions, the general public may wonder about their own home soil health.

Soilsafe is also running a soil values project. University social scientist Dr Emma Sharp, also from the School of Environment says a questionnaire aims to capture community attitudes to soil health and is available in both te reo Māori and in English.

“There is also a wider aim of the programme to find out much more about what people are growing in their gardens and why gardening is important to them and we’re encouraging marae, community gardens and schools to get involved.”

Covid-19 may also have had an effect on gardening habits in New Zealand and the team is keen to find out what those might be, she says.

“We believe that there have been changes in our communities’ gardening habits over this past year due to Covid-19 lockdowns, so we’d love to hear what these changes might be.”

The research team also includes postgraduate students from the University, Dr Kah says.

“Our students’ research is at the intersection of environmental and human sciences – we can’t study the soil without studying the people that interact with it. And there is plenty to explore, so lots of opportunities for students.”

Source:  University of Auckland

Proof is in the proteins: new way to validate mānuka honey

Scientists at the University of Auckland and Comvita Ltd have developed a new way to analyse honey by measuring the levels of proteins from mānuka nectar.

The team found 12 potential molecules which are all unique to the mānuka plant. They say this strategy could be used to authenticate honey products more easily and accurately.

The mass spectrometry analysis was performed by the Mass Spectrometry Centre, Auckland Analytical Science Services, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, and funded by Comvita NZ Ltd.

A brief report on the findings has been published by Scimex.

The paper to which Scimex readers are steered sets out four highlights:

•   Identification of unique peptides in NZ mānuka honey & L. scoparium nectar.

•   L. scoparium nectar peptides were not present in other plant species nectar.

•  Bottom-up proteomic approach using nano-liquid chromatography separation with HRMS.

•  Proteins were identified based on a predicted mānuka proteome and database searches.

The Abstract says:

Proteomics is an emerging tool in food authentication that has not been optimised for honey analysis. In this study, we present a qualitative proteomic analysis of New Zealand mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium) honey.

A total of 50 bee-derived proteins were identified in the honey, the most predominant being major royal jelly proteins (MRJPs). We also demonstrate for the first time the presence of unique nectar-derived proteins in mānuka honey.

A total of 17 mānuka plant proteins were identified, a-third of which were putative pathogenesis-related proteins. Two proteins involved in drought tolerance were also identified.

Twelve candidate peptides were selected as potential authentication markers based on their uniqueness to mānuka honey. Nectar analyses confirmed the origin and specificity of these peptides to L. scoparium nectar, thus presenting peptide profiling as a viable and novel approach for mānuka honey authentication.

Raw data are available via ProteomeXchange with identifier PXD021730.

Link to research (DOI): 10.1016/j.foodchem.2020.128442

Source:  Scimex

Hawke’s Bay community is engaged in codling moth research to protect New Zealand apples

Plant & Food Research has engaged households in Hawke’s Bay, the heart of New Zealand’s apple industry, in studies that will help create smarter and more sustainable ways to protect the prized fruit and those whose livelihoods depend on it.

New Zealand is the only country which can export apples to some of the world’s most exclusive and premium markets such as Japan. To maintain this status, our apple exports must be free of pests like codling moths as well as contain low chemical residues.

Thanks to decades of innovation and integrated pest management practice, the codling moth population on-orchard is largely under control, but the industry is not necessarily out of the woods.

Plant & Food Research scientists and their research partners at the University of Auckland have obtained permission from households in Hastings City, a peri-urban (semi-rural) area close to commercial apple orchards, to install 200 pheromone traps on residential properties. Some of these households have apple and walnut trees in their gardens – both common host trees of codling moths. Continue reading

Flexibility of the DAD2 receptor protein allows binding to signalling proteins

Plants regulate their shape (that is,  branching) in response to the conditions around them.

Strigolactone (SL) is a recently discovered plant hormone that reduces branching when plants don’t have enough nutrients, particularly phosphorus.  SL is made in the roots and transported to the shoot where it is detected by the receptor protein DAD2.

In response to SL, DAD2 binds to at least two other proteins leading to suppression of branch growth (to save resources).

Scientists at Plant & Food Research, Massey University and the University of Auckland have studied how SL changes the DAD2 protein and allows DAD2 to interact with its partner proteins. By making variants of the DAD2 protein that could interact without needing the SL signal they were able to examine the changes in the receptor that allow the signal to be transmitted.

Previous work had shown that the receptor changes shape dramatically when bound to its partners.

Surprisingly, the DAD2 variants showed almost no change in shape. Instead, the study showed that the DAD2 variants become flexible leading to the idea that increased flexibility of DAD2 when it binds SL allows it to be pushed into a new shape as it binds its partner proteins.

The study also showed that each partner protein binds to a separate and distinct region of the DAD2 protein.

Journal Reference

Lee HW, Sharma P, Janssen BJ, Drummond RSM, Luo Z, Hamiaux C, Collier T, Allison JA, Newcomb RD, Snowden KC, 2020 Flexibility of the petunia strigolactone receptor DAD2 promotes its interaction with signaling partners. Journal of Biological Chemistry

Source:  Plant & Food Research

Chardonnay and Pinot gris could benefit from the Sauv treatment

New Zealand’s Sauvignon blanc has become world-famous for its special tropical aromas which scientists believe could soon be recreated in other wines including Chardonnay and Pinot gris.

The new research from the Wine Science programme team at the University of Auckland, including PhD candidate Xiaotong Lyu, Dr Leandro Dias Araujo and Professor Paul Kilmartin, was  presented at the NZ Winegrowers Romeo Bragato National Conference in Wellington this week.

Some of the distinctive Marlborough Sauvignon that has proved so popular internationally was revealed through previous research at the University by Professor Kilmartin. That research showed wine produced using machine-harvesting  – rather than hand – harvesting – that macerates the fruit well, combined with good antioxidant protection straight after harvest, produces a type of Sauvignon that is high in a family of aroma compounds known as varietal thiols which give the local wine its distinctiveness.

But they now know that these varietal thiol compounds can be elevated in all New Zealand white wines when harvesting techniques regularly used with Sauvignon blanc are applied to other varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot gris.

Professor Kilmartin says a sensory panel at the University of Auckland’s Goldie Wine programme on Waiheke Island where the University’s postgraduate programme is based has already sampled a specially produced Pinot gris.

“Our panel liked the wines and found that the Pinot gris they were asked to profile retained a distinctive Pinot gris character, typically more floral with light fruity attributes, even with the higher varietal thiols present,” he says.

“But it’s important to point out that one type of wine doesn’t become another using this method – a Pinot gris doesn’t change into a Sauvignon blanc – but another dimension is added to the wine by these potent aromatic compounds.”

The research aims to give New Zealand winegrowers and producers a new tool to direct the style of wine they want to produce based on the quality styles needed for different consumer markets, Professor Kilmartin says. Varietal thiols produce different styles depending on whether they are higher in the wine or lower.

Source: University of Auckland

The future of food to be explored at University of Auckland symposium

Big food issues in today’s world, and how they can be addressed to create food systems that are sustainable, just and resilient, are at the heart of a special symposium titled “The Future of Food”, which will be held at the University of Auckland on 17 April.

Organisers Dr Manuel Vallee and Dr Maria Armoudian, both from the University’s School of Social Sciences, say things like soil depletion, freshwater shortages, reduced biodiversity, massive pollinator die-offs, terminator seeds and a host of other big business practices threaten the long-term availability of healthy food.

“We are eroding our food systems because we are focused on the short-term and not thinking long-term,” says Dr Vallee who is a medical and environmental sociologist.

In two panels, the symposium will first explore and diagnose the problems, such as climate change and short-term thinking that prioritises economic growth at the expense of long-term food security and preserving our life support systems.

“In a second panel we will explore alternative ways to organize our food systems and offer pragmatic solutions to produce just, resilient and sustainable food futures,” says Dr Vallee.

The symposium will feature special guest Dr Michael Carolan, a Professor of Sociology from Colorado State University, who has written extensively about food issues, including on the sociology of food systems and agriculture. Dr Michael Joy, a Senior Lecturer in Ecology and Environmental Science form Massey University will also take part.

University of Auckland participants include Professor Richard Le Heron, from the School of Environment who is a geographer and an expert in rural value chains and Anastasia Telesetsky, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law and an expert in environmental law who has researched marine food security and sustainable fishing practices.

The symposium will be recorded by Radio New Zealand for broadcast at a future date.

DETAILS: April 17, 1 -5 pm University Great Hall, ClockTower.

For more information email or

Source: University of Auckland


Prominent Swedish scientist to present lecture on global sustainability


Professor Johan Rockström, Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, next week will present the NZCGS 5th Global Affairs Lecture at the University of Auckland.

Considered one of the world’s leading thinkers on global sustainability, Professor Rockström’s lecture is entitled The Planetary Boundaries: Implications for Global Governance in the 21st Century.

Professor Rockström led the team of Earth system and environmental scientists who developed the innovative Planetary Boundaries concept. This is the idea that there are nine Earth system processes that define the limits required to uphold the world’s environmental safe zone. They are a framework which marks a threshold that should not be crossed.

The boundaries are based on scientific evidence that human activity is the main driver of global environmental change. By defining the boundaries, action can be taken to preserve Earth’s resilience.

The nine boundaries (climate change, biodiversity loss, the biogeochemical cycle on Earth, ocean acidification, land use, fresh water availability, ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol levels, and chemical pollution), are meant as scientifically determined sustainability guidelines for governments and corporations.

Professor Rockström is the Hillary Institute’s 2017 global Hillary Laureate. The Institute has brought him to New Zealand to work directly with Government and the public and private sectors. His visit to Auckland is in association with the New Zealand Centre for Global Studies (NZCGS) and the New Zealand Centre for Environmental Law at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Law.

He will be joining five other prominent experts in the field who will give short presentations as well as taking part in a question and answer session.

Source: University of Auckland