World’s first Bachelor of Climate Change launched at University of Waikato

The world’s first Bachelor of Climate Change degree has been launched by the University of Waikato, delivering graduates that will lead future climate change solutions, as New Zealand works to meet its target of net zero emissions by 2050.

The three-year degree is the first of its kind in the world, combining scientific knowledge with understanding of economic, social and political systems and Māori and Pacific responses to climate change.

University of Waikato Dean of Science, Professor Margaret Barbour, says as Aotearoa and the world works towards a target of net zero emissions by 2050, our future depends on how we respond to the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and how we adapt to environmental change. Continue reading

New book extols the value of high-class New Zealand soils

A ground-breaking new book, The Soils of Aotearoa New Zealand, will launch during the joint New Zealand-Australia soils conference at the University of Waikato on Monday 28 June.

Published as part of the World Soils Book Series by Springer, the book is the first of its kind to be released in almost three decades, says one of its co-authors, University of Waikato soil scientist Professor David Lowe.

The  book builds on the widely used title, New Zealand Soil Classification, first published in 1992.

Its three authors – Dr Allan Hewitt, from Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, and Dr Megan Balks and Professor David Lowe, from Te Aka Mātuatua School of Science at the University of Waikato, among them have more than 110 years of experience in soil science. Continue reading

Mānuka leaf study could help maximise high-grade honey production

University of Waikato researchers have found a unique group of microorganisms on the surface of mānuka leaves, which could help explain the wide variation in the antibacterial properties of mānuka honey.

The microbiome—a complex community of bacteria—was surprisingly specific and consistent for mānuka leaves, even across distant geographical locations, suggesting these bacteria may play important roles in how mānuka responds to stress and different environmental conditions.

Further research expanding on these findings could help develop strategies to maximise the production of high-grade mānuka honey. This would involve identifying specific microorganisms on the mānuka leaf surface that influence the production of antibacterial compounds.

University of Waikato PhD student and Sir Edmund Hillary Scholar Anya Noble was lead author on the study.

“I became intrigued by the microorganisms living on mānuka leaves while undertaking my Masters research,” says Ms Noble.

Studies on other plants have shown that leaf surface bacteria can influence the way plants function and grow in their environment. However, this had not been explored for mānuka, a plant with unique properties that scientists have not been able to explain completely, despite decades of research.

“Uncovering the effect of these microorganisms on mānuka will be the focus of investigation in my PhD,” she says.

The University of Waikato has a tradition of undertaking ground-breaking research on mānuka, which is a taonga (treasured) species indigenous to New Zealand, and the distinct attributes of its honey.

In 1981 Professor Peter Molan first discovered mānuka honey’s unique non-peroxide antimicrobial properties, which helped turn it into a highly valuable health product.

Ms Noble’s study is not the only mānuka investigation underway at the University of Waikato. Associate Professor Michael Clearwater and Waikato University PhD student Stevie Noe are currently studying the growth, flowering, and nectar production of mānuka in response to environmental factors like soil fertility. Dr Megan Grainger is researching the elemental profile of honey and the effect of metals on honeybees.

The paper, A core phyllosphere microbiome exists across distant populations of a tree species indigenous to New Zealand, was co-authored by:

  • Anya S. Noble, PhD student, University of Waikato
  • Stevie Noe, PhD student, University of Waikato
  • Associate Professor Michael J. Clearwater, University of Waikato
  • Dr Charles K. Lee, University of Waikato

It can be viewed on the PLOS ONE database.

Source:  University of Waikato

$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

 

Agribusiness student helps show agricultural opportunities to young people

Young students have no idea how many opportunities can be found in the agricultural sector, says University of Waikato agribusiness and marketing student Celine Walters.

Determined to open students’ eyes to the many options, Celine organised the 2018 Rabobank Waikato Agri-Leadership programme.

Funded by Rabobank, the four-day programme exposed high school students to the opportunities and aimed at creating future leaders in the agri industry. Twenty-six high school students were involved, primarily from city and urban backgrounds in the Waikato region.

The students visited various top organisations in the agri sector, including Plant and Food, Gallagher and Fonterra. Guest speakers includied Agribusiness leader Traci Houpapa, Environmental Protection Agency chief scientist Jacqueline Rowarth and KPMG Global Head of Agribusiness Ian Proudfoot.

“The speakers really opened everyone’s eyes to the vast variety of perspectives New Zealanders have on where we should be heading in the future, to stay competitive in a changing business environment,” Celine says.

“For example, meat is now able to be produced in a lab, so the question of whether we should follow this path and produce alternative proteins, or stick with the production of pasture based protein needs to be determined.”

Celine, in her third year of a Bachelor of Management Studies (Honours), says students need to be shown the science, engineering, management, strategy and other opportunities available in agriculture and brought into the sector.

Source: Waikato University.

 

Scholarship to support embryonic stem cell research

The University of Waikato has announced biological sciences student Sarah Appleby has won a C. Alma Baker Postgraduate Scholarship for her agriculture-focused masters research project.

The Massey University scholarship, worth $13,000, will go towards Sarah’s research into bovine embryonic stem cells.

“I’m working with Dr Bjorn Oback at AgResearch on bovine embryonic stem cells and testing their functional potential.

“Embryonic stem cells have really only been fully isolated from mice and rats, however the group at AgResearch (Ruakura) have developed a method that isolates cells from cows that have very similar properties to the mice embryonic stem cells.”

Tests have already shown that the cells perform well in the lab so Sarah’s work will be focused on seeing if they improve cloning efficiency.

“The aim of this work is to improve our understanding of bovine embryonic stem cells for their use in accelerated animal breeding and biomedical applications. If we can effectively capture the best traits using embryonic stem cells we could develop better biotechnology-based breeding systems to have animals that are more efficient and sustainable to farm.”

The former Whangamata Area School student completed a Bachelor of Science (Technology) at Waikato University and is half way through a Master of Science majoring in Biological Sciences, with an emphasis on physiology and genetics.

During a BSc(Tech) work placement, she spent three months at AgResearch (Ruakura), on a bovine karyotyping project.

During another placement, she spent seven months at AgResearch (Invermay) working on of projects related to sheep fertility and reproduction.

 

Research aims to combat soil water shortage on farms

University of Waikato doctoral student Jack Pronger hopes his current research project will contribute to an improvement in pastoral drought resilience.

Pronger is the recipient of the Flower Doctoral Fellowship in Agribusiness, a scholarship worth $30,000 a year for three years. He intends looking into how to tackle the ongoing impacts of drought on dry land farming, or farms that aren’t irrigated.

The Flower Fellowship is awarded to a student whose research has relevance in the agribusiness sector, focusing particularly on issues of food production, farmer ownership and labour issues, New Zealand’s role in global agriculture and the preservation of fertile soils.

The University of Waikato’s agribusiness programme is headed by Professor Jacqueline Rowarth.

Pronger’s research will focus on identifying approaches to increase drought resilience by using more diverse mixes of pasture species – research that could have a significant impact on farm production.

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$5000 scholarship granted for reproductive technologies research

University of Waikato science student Zach McLean has been awarded a $5000 Patrick Shannon Scholarship from Livestock Improvement Corporation.

The scholarship will go towards a Bachelor of Science (Honours) (BSc(Hons)) research project working alongside Dr Bjorn Oback and the Reproductive Technologies group at AgResearch.

The project will involve investigating genes associated with the genetic network regulating pluripotency in bovine embryos. Pluripotent cells are able to produce all cell types in the body and emerge during early preimplantation development.

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