Mātai: Fidgeting might help us concentrate
A collaboration between researchers at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) and Mātai Medical Research Institute in Tairāwhiti Gisborne have used MRI scans to demonstrate that fidgeting, often seen in people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), might improve activation of the decision-making region of the brain.
Malaghan: New study into Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to provide unique NZ data
A clinical study getting underway in Rotorua and Christchurch will provide valuable information on how our unique population responds to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Verum Group’s successful kiwi monitoring programme to extend to bird species with more call complexity
When you hear a dawn chorus of bellbird/korimako, the mid-morning song of grey warbler/riroriro, or kiwi calling in the darkness, you’re listening to a conversation. Many of the singers you hear know each other as individuals, and they benefit from the ability to recognise one another based on song alone.
BRANZ study finds nearly half of children sleeping in cold rooms
A study of more than 2000 eight year-olds has found nearly half are sleeping in bedrooms that are too cold, some slept in temperatures below 10°C.
MRINZ explores ground-breaking way of treating asthma
July 2021: A new ‘AIR Algorithm Study’ of 100 New Zealand volunteers, led by the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ) in Wellington, is looking deeper into the implementation of AIR therapy, across the spectrum of mild to severe asthma, using just one combination inhaler for both regular scheduled maintenance and as-needed reliever use.
MRINZ has dedicated much of its research focus over the last two decades to the prevention and management of asthma, both here at home in Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world.
MRINZ’s asthma research has included three landmark studies which have shown that a 2 in 1 inhaler, containing both a preventer and reliever medication, is far more effective than the traditional single reliever inhaler, which has been the basis of asthma management for over 60 years.
Dr Pepa Bruce, MRINZ clinical research fellow, Graeme Hansen, AIR therapy study volunteer, and Professor Richard Beasley, MRINZ director Photo: Rob Sarkies.
Mātai: Effects of meth addiction on the brain - pilot study
July 2021: Meth addiction is a major issue in our community, with meth use disproportionately high among the poor and disadvantaged. MRI has shown that methamphetamine addiction physically changes the anatomy, blood flow, and chemical make-up of the brain, but using MRI to study the effects of meth addiction and treatment efficacy is in the early stages of development.
New MRI techniques and applications to study the brain are continually improving. And while MRI has demonstrated that methamphetamine addiction physically damages the brain, some of these changes are potentially reversible.
At present, Mātai is undertaking a pilot study into using MRI in the study of meth addition. Following the pilot, the goal is to expand into a long-term programme that will assess the efficacy of various new and existing approaches to treatment.
Meth addiction is a major issue in our community. Image: Mart Production, Pexels.
Connections 33 eNewsletter out now
June 2021: The latest IRANZ newsletter is out now. Stuffed full of science research goodness from New Zealand's independent research organisations.
Read all about The future of our science system; A fresh perspective on the housing crisis; BRANZ joint-study finds nearly half of children sleeping in cold rooms; Fidgeting might help us concentrate; Six-minute surgery game-changer for patients with atrial fibrillation; Cawthron: Noise in the ocean is affecting marine mammals; Motu: Warmer Kiwis Study; BBHTC/Motu: Urban employment growth in NZ’s smaller cities; Grape expectations: Lincoln Ag's yield analyser progressing; NZIMMR: Adding value to New Zealand’s silica sand resources; and much more.
Verum Group is running a research project developing artificial intelligence techniques that will hopefully allow the future monitoring of the Great Spotted Kiwi and other bird population to be done in a non-invasive way, avoiding the need to capture the birds. Bellbird/Korimako in red flowering mistletoe, Mt Ruapehu. Image: Louise Thomas.
IRANZ: The future of our science system
June 2021: As Cawthron, arguably Aotearoa’s longest established Research Organisation, celebrates 100 years, it is timely to consider the possible near future of our science ecosystem. The Government has recently suggested that our science system may be overhauled on a scale “not seen since the 1990s”. The comment was prompted by the long-awaited review of the National Statement of Science Investment focusing on The Impact of Science, the recommendations made in the CRI Review Te Pae Kahurangi, the PCE review of the funding and prioritisation of environmental research, and the current debate about Science Excellence initiated by MBIE’s Departmental Science Advisors.
Officially established in 1921 by the last will and testament of Nelson philanthropist Thomas Cawthron, Cawthron Institute is now New Zealand’s largest independent science organisation with 300 staff from 35 countries, working across multiple sites in Nelson. Image: Cawthron.
IRANZ June news briefs
June 2021: Follow the link for more details on the June 2021 news briefs from our Independent Research Organisations.
- PM Opens Cawthron’s new research centre
- Malaghan Institute head recognised for world-class contribution
- Wolfgang Scholz awarded Honorary Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit
- Developments at Bragato
- Malaghan cytometry expert appointed to international leadership programme
- MRINZ trials win five Australian Clinical Trials Alliance (ACTA) 2021 Awards
- Cawthron Institute exhibition opens at Nelson Provincial Museum
- Te Pūtahitanga: A Tiriti–led science-policy approach for Aotearoa New Zealand
- PlantTech machine learning talk at Tauranga Techweek
- New recruits at Aqualinc
- Inaugural Mātai intern helps with concussion study
- . . . and more.
The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opened the new Cawthron National Algae Research Centre on 27 May. Image: Cawthron.
BBHTC/Motu: Urban employment growth in NZ’s smaller cities
June 2021: European regional policy promotes “smart specialisation” by encouraging regions to expand into activities that build on local strengths. The idea is that bringing together people with complementary skills helps them generate new ideas that boost innovation and growth. But does this actually work in a New Zealand context?
Research, recently published in the international journal Regional Studies, by Building Better researchers Benjamin Davies and Dr David Maré, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, examines the potential for this way of generating ideas to promote urban employment growth in New Zealand. They find that, in New Zealand, the presence of related industries in an area is not a strong predictor of local employment growth. But why is that?
Local job networks may promote growth in big cities, but not in small ones. Wellington docks. Image: James Coleman.
BRANZ: A fresh perspective on the housing crisis
June 2021: BRANZ Chief Executive Chelydra Percy says it’s time for a fresh perspective on the housing crisis – for us to think about changing the entire paradigm of housing ownership versus renting. That’s how we will find innovative models and bring real change.
"New Zealand's uniqueness has been sheeted home in various ways over the past year, not least our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which sees us living relatively normal lives. Paradoxically, what has often seemed a disadvantage – being a small island nation far removed from the rest of the world – has proven to be an asset. It’s a reminder as to why perspective is so important.
"Recently, I’ve been reflecting on how useful it can be to challenge the status quo. To walk in someone else’s footsteps to see what they see. To re-evaluate what we take for granted with a fresh perspective."
BRANZ Chief Executive Chelydra Percy asks how do we create a housing model that enables renters to grow and extract their personal equity? One with the underlying goal of affordability, stability and wealth creation. Image: Louise Thomas.
BRANZ study finds nearly half of children sleeping in cold rooms
June 2021: A study of more than 2000 eight year-olds has found nearly half are sleeping in bedrooms that are too cold, some slept in temperatures below 10°C. The world-first research was a joint project between the building researchers BRANZ and the University of Auckland longitudinal study Growing Up in New Zealand.
It involved children in the Growing Up in New Zealand study collecting temperature and humidity data at home and school over two days.
This indoor environment information was linked to health information collected from the children.
BRANZ General Manager of Research, Dr Chris Litten, says the link between cold and damp indoor temperatures and poorer health is clear. He says that the study reflects previous research that shows children experiencing the greatest disadvantage are more likely to experience poor quality indoor environments and subsequently poorer overall general health.
A study of more than 2000 eight year-olds in New Zealand has found nearly half are sleeping in bedrooms that are too cold. Image: Annie Spratt, Unsplash.
Mātai: Fidgeting might help us concentrate
June 2021: A collaboration between researchers at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) and Mātai Medical Research Institute in Tairāwhiti Gisborne have used MRI scans to demonstrate that fidgeting, often seen in people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), might improve activation of the decision-making region of the brain.
The research led by Associate Professor Justin Fernandez of the ABI was conducted at Mātai, an MRI research institute directed by Dr Samantha Holdsworth.
The results of an initial pilot study showed that MRI technology may have the potential to be a diagnostic tool and identify ADHD characteristics. Interestingly, the study suggests that fidgeting may help those with the disorder concentrate.
More specifically, the pilot study showed that fidgeting increased blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in concentration during a decision-making task.
Associate Professor Justin Fernandez from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, working out first-hand how to allow for fidgeting while in an MRI machine. Image: Mātai Medical Research Institute.
MRINZ: World asthma recommendations are following NZ's lead
June 2021: International asthma recommendations from the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) have been changed to follow a similar approach to New Zealand's guidelines, which the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ) Director Professor Beasley led the 2020 update on for the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ.
Evidence supporting these changes comes in part from findings of asthma research by the MRINZ. Two of the three large randomized controlled trials conducted on the safety and efficacy of a combined 2-in-1 reliever therapy were funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand and are the only independent trials in the field.
Although leading the field in asthma research, asthma is a growing problem in Aotearoa with one in seven children and one in eight adults living with the condition. Māori, Pacific peoples, and those in more socio-economically deprived neighbourhoods are disproportionately affected with higher rates of asthma, hospitalisation, and death, and lower rates of being prescribed standard care.
Illustration: Dr Ciléin Kearns, MRINZ.
Verum Group’s successful kiwi monitoring programme to extend to bird species with more call complexity
June 2021: When you hear a dawn chorus of bellbird/korimako, the mid-morning song of grey warbler/riroriro, or kiwi calling in the darkness, you’re listening to a conversation. Many of the singers you hear know each other as individuals, and they benefit from the ability to recognise one another based on song alone. Conservation can benefit from this, too. Acoustically identifying individual birds allows us to study their ecology and behaviour with less need for invasive methods and disturbance, particularly in species or populations where capturing and handling is difficult or unacceptable.
The Verum Group team has already developed successful artificial intelligence techniques for identifying individuals of roroa (great spotted kiwi) using solely sound. They now plan to extend their computational methods to study species with more call complexity, including rowi (Okarito kiwi), tokoeka (southern brown kiwi), fantails/pīwakawaka, riroriro, and korimako.
Bellbird/Korimako in red flowering mistletoe, Mt Ruapehu. Photo: Louise Thomas.
Grape expectations: Lincoln Ag's yield analyser progressing well
June 2021: The MBIE-funded Grape Yield Analyser (GYA) research programme, now in its fifth year, is developing sensing technology and tools to support crop load management in grapevine production. The main focus for Lincoln Agritech’s work is developing sensor use for counting grape bunches and a Bayesian model for accurately predicting grape harvest yields early in the growing period.
One tool they are developing is a camera-based method for counting inflorescences, which are young grape bunches before their flowers turn into berries, to support early in-season yield assessment. In some New Zealand vineyards, counting inflorescences in November has replaced counting grape bunches at the pea-size berry stage in mid-January. Leaf density is still low in November and allows the technology to quickly assess inflorescence numbers, which has shown to be a good proxy for grape bunches later in the season.
Detail of a vine with inflorescences identified by Lincoln Agritech's machine learning tool (highlighted in several bright colours). Image: Lincoln Agritech.
Malaghan: New study into Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to provide unique NZ data
June 2021: A clinical study getting underway in Rotorua and Christchurch will provide valuable information on how our unique population responds to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
The study, ‘Ka Mātau, Ka Ora' (from knowledge comes wellbeing), is being led by Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand – Ohu Kaupare Huaketo (VAANZ) and is being undertaken to inform the national COVID-19 strategy and ultimately enhance vaccine effectiveness and confidence.
“While the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has demonstrated efficacy and safety in pivotal clinical trials and real-world studies, it has not yet been studied in New Zealand,” says the Malaghan Institute’s Dr Fran Priddy, VAANZ Clinical Director. “We want to understand how New Zealanders’ immune systems respond to the vaccine, particularly in populations likely at higher risk from COVID-19, such as Māori, Pasifika, and the elderly.”
NZIMMR: Adding value to New Zealand’s silica sand resources
June 2021: Geological investigations into silica deposits around New Zealand hold the prospect for a renewal of a local sand mining and processing industry for glass manufacture. The NZIMMR is looking to work with sand producers to create a high-value, New Zealand supply chain.
At one-time silica sand was mined in Northland, and supplied to glassworks in Auckland. That silica requirement is now imported from Perth, Western Australia, at 60,000 tonnes a year.
Sourcing silica from New Zealand instead of Australia would reduce the carbon miles of transport, and create New Zealand jobs.
NZIMMR’s initial industry review has revealed several promising silica sand deposits in the North Island and the South Island, with further investigations underway.
Silica sand. Image: NZIMMR.
BRANZ: Impact of UV on materials
June 2021: The durability, performance, and deterioration rate of polymers are influenced by their material composition and climatic conditions. Simply put, due to New Zealand’s high ultraviolet (UV) levels, most commercial organic-based polymers used in construction degrade when exposed to the sun.
We're all aware that New Zealand has high levels of UV and that these can quickly burn our skin if we forget to apply sunblock.
Our absolute UV levels and UV index numbers are, on the face of it, a bit surprising given that similar latitudes on other continents are typically about 20% lower than the UV levels we have here.
Spectral irradiance measured at Lauder, 12.45pm, 12 January 1991.
MRINZ: Six-minute surgery a game-changer for patients with atrial fibrillation
June 2021: An extra six minutes in heart surgery reduced the risk of stroke for years in one of the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand - MRINZ's latest trials published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common condition where the upper chambers of the heart don't always beat in a coordinated way with the lower chambers. People can experience palpitations when this happens, and in a certain part of the heart — the left atrial appendage — this can lead to blood becoming stagnant and forming clots. These clots are at risk of dislodging and being pumped into the brain, where they can block vessels to cause a stroke.
The left atrial appendage can be surgically 'blocked off' in several ways to prevent clot formation, theoretically preventing this kind of stroke in patients with AF. However, until now, there has been no definitive evidence to prove whether this is effective.
Samoa Capital Radio - interview with Prof Graham Le Gros
June 2021: In the first of a monthly science series, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research Director Professor Graham Le Gros talks to Samoa Capital Radio's Afamasaga T Moresi and Alo Brian Duffy about immunology, COVID vaccines, and research underway at the Institute.
Recorded 18 May 2021 at Samoa Capital Radio in Porirua, New Zealand. Interview in English and Samoan.
For this interview and other videos featuring IRANZ members please see our video page in the link below
Malaghan: Hookworms to heal
June 2021: Human hookworms show a remarkable ability to dampen down aggressive immune responses, offering an exciting potential for treating autoimmune or inflammatory diseases.
The Malaghan Institute's hookworm clinical therapy programme aims to explore the therapeutic benefits of the human hookworm Necator americanus. This Health Research Council-funded programme involves infecting volunteers with a controlled dose of hookworm, and monitoring how they affect their hosts' health and immune profile. The study has since moved onto working with patients with ulcerative colitis.
Dr Tom Mules, a gastroenterologist working with the Malaghan Institute, was recently interviewed on RNZ Nights to discuss the research programme.
Dr Tom Mules. Image: Malaghan Institute.
Motu: Minimum wages in NZ - sharp tool or blunt instrument?
June 2021: New Zealand has seen dramatic changes in minimum wage policies since 2000. Motu researchers have investigated the motivations for minimum wages, the changes over time, and how they have affected workers' outcomes. Is a minimum wage policy as effective as claimed by its supporters, or as damaging as claimed by its critics?
The adult Statutory Minimum Wage in New Zealand has risen substantially (75% in real terms) since 2000. The minimum wage now directly affects about 9% of all Kiwi employees, but has much greater impact on teenage workers (57% of 16-17 year olds and 43% of 18-19 year olds in 2020).
“Surprisingly, it is hard to find a clear statement of what minimum wage policies actually aim to achieve,” says Dr Dave Maré of Motu Research.
The team presented the results of their research at a seminar in Wellington on 3 June.
HERA: Validation of structural fire design for steel-framed carparks
May 2021: What happens to a steel-framed carpark if a car catches fire? Engineers who are interested in advanced calculations and an accurate prediction of the structural response of steel-framed carparks will find this HERA Report of interest, particularly in relation to structural fire design.
The report - R4-152, authored by Finite Element Analyst Nandor Mago, checks the validity of the simpler structural design methodology for steel framed carparks using detailed sequentially coupled thermal-stress analyses, which models a 17m x 30m composite floor system supported by steel framing.
The steel beams’ plastic deformation, the largest deflections and internal forces in critical sections of the secondary beams are extracted over the duration of the applied single car fire loading. In this report, two car fire scenarios were investigated.
Verum Group helps deliver innovative passive water treatment at Reefton
May 2021: An innovative passive water treatment system, the world’s first full-scale vertical flow reactor (VFR), is becoming a reality at OceanaGold’s Reefton Restoration Project on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Scientists from Verum Group were instrumental in the design and installation of the system for the treatment of mine drainage.
The system removes heavy metals from water seepages before the water is gravity fed into Devil’s Creek. These metals, such as iron and arsenic, exist naturally inside the rock, but they could threaten the natural ecosystem if released at high levels into the environment.
Verum Group Senior Scientist Dave Trumm says the eyes of the mine-site environmental rehabilitation community around the world are now on New Zealand.
Construction is now underway on the world’s first full-scale vertical flow reactor to clean water of heavy metals at Reefton. Image: Dave Trumm, Verum Group.
Motu: Warmer Kiwis Study
May 2021: EECA has commissioned Motu Research to investigate the impact of heat pumps in homes with a heat pump installed under the EECA Warmer Kiwi Homes programme, which offers grants to lower-income homeowners for home insulation and/or an efficient heater.
Motu Research is working to determine if the health and wellbeing of the household improves because of using heat pumps. Their evaluation is also growing the public evidence base about what works best to make homes warmer, drier, and healthier.
Data collection began in early May 2021 and will end around 1 September 2021. Motu will publish the results in early 2022.
If you'd like to participate in this research, read more about it in the link below.
The aim of the EECA Warmer Kiwi Homes programme is to increase the number of people living in warm, dry, and healthy homes and to reduce avoidable hospitalisations and ill health due to housing-related conditions. Image: Motu Research.
Mātai: 3D amplified MRI - brain motion in stunning detail
May 2021: Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) images are usually meant to be static. But now, researchers from Mātai Medical Research Institute (Mātai), Stevens Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the University of Auckland and other institutions, report on an imaging technique that captures the brain in motion in real time, in 3D and in stunning detail, providing a potential diagnostic tool for detecting difficult-to-spot conditions such as obstructive brain disorders and aneurysms – before they become life threatening.
The new technique, called 3D amplified MRI, or 3D aMRI, reveals pulsating brain movement which could help researchers to non-invasively visualise brain disorders and inform better treatment strategies for tiny deformations or disorders that obstruct the brain or block the flow of brain fluids.
Researchers from the Mātai Medical Research Institute, in New Zealand, and Stevens Institute of Technology — and others – report a new and enhanced method to visualise difficult-to-spot brain conditions. Image: Mātai Medical Research Institute.
Cawthron: Noise in the ocean is affecting marine mammals
May 2021: Our oceans are becoming so noisy that it’s negatively affecting marine mammals says Cawthron Marine Ecologists Dr Deanna Clement and Dr Simon Childerhouse.
"While we’ve known for more than 70 years that whales and dolphins use sound to communicate across the oceans, it’s only been within the last few decades that we’ve had the technology to use sound as a means of studying them within their environment.
"At the same time, we are also beginning to realise just how noisy humans have made the oceans and the significant impact this has had on many marine mammal species including masking communication, displacing individuals from critical habitats, and even potentially causing strandings resulting in death," the pair write.
Radio New Zealand fisheries reporter Conan Young discusses the issue with Simon.
NZ Brain Institute on Parkinson's research
May 2021: New Zealand Brain Research Institute Director Dr Michael MacAskill was recently interviewed by RNZ's Jesse Mulligan on their latest research into Parkinson's.
Michael says some people’s Parkinson's disease progresses very rapidly while others have a more benign course of Parkinson’s and they want to find out why it happens faster or slower for different people.
“It seems to be that people who have younger onset Parkinson’s it tends to be a bit more benign, it tends to progress a bit more slowly. For people that get it a bit older, it’s a much more rapid progression of symptoms and the reasons for that are a bit unclear.”
After 200 years of studying the disease, it’s still not known what causes Parkinson’s but Michael says there are some unexpected risk factors.
A Legacy for NZ Wine - inside the Bragato Research Institute
May 2021: RNZ Country Life - "If Romeo Bragato were alive today, he'd be pleased as punch to visit the Bragato Research Institute, a wine laboratory set up in his name just on a year ago.
"The European viticulturalist was said to be disillusioned and frustrated when he left New Zealand in the early 1900s.
"His experimental winemaking here and advice to the government on planting grapevines was largely ignored and his recommendations lay forgotten for over 60 years."
Bragato's Research Winery Manager Tanya Rutan is interviewed by RNZ's Sally Round on the Country Life programme on the role of the Bragato Research Institute.
Tanya Rutan, Bragato Research Institute Winery Manager. Image: RNZ/Sally Round.
New research papers on Verum Group site
May 2021: Publications are a critical part of many of Verum Group's research projects to provide clarity and demonstrate the quality of science completed by the research group. They have recently updated their research publications page and are keen to engage with anyone interested in their research. Take a look - everything from recognising the calls of individual birds for non-invasive monitoring to best practice for restoring old mining sites and treating acid mine drainage.
Image: Verum Group.
Cawthron: Acoustic monitoring technology providing new insight into lives of marine mammals
May 2021: A new underwater acoustic recording network being established by Cawthron Institute marine ecologists is opening up a ‘world of information’ about the lives of New Zealand’s marine mammals in order to better protect them.
Acoustic monitoring devices have been moored in a number of coastal locations around the South Island in order to track numbers, locations and movements of our marine mammal populations.
In a recent interview with Radio New Zealand, Cawthron research lead Dr Deanna Clement explained that with such a massive ocean estate, New Zealand remains largely in the dark as to the whereabouts of marine mammals.
Image: Claudia Beer, Pixabay.
Cawthron: 'A gym for fish'
May 2021: Cawthron Institute experts Dr Jane Symonds and Dr Serean Adams were featured on TVNZ 1 news talking about how Cawthron's world-leading research is supporting the growth of New Zealand's King Salmon industry by improving our understanding of fish health. They have made a surprising discovery - the fish seem to have their own individual needs and behaviours just like humans do.
Fish at Nelson's Cawthron Institute are put to the test
“It’s a gym for fish. We put them on the treadmill and see how well they perform, and that’s just like measuring that on an athlete, right? So we’re measuring their oxygen consumption, we’re measuring their metabolic rate, and trying to understand how much energy are they using,” says Cawthron Institute’s, Serean Adams.
Malaghan: Immunology in the time of COVID-19
April 2021: It’s been roughly eighteen months since COVID-19 first appeared on our radars, and just over a year since New Zealand went into its first lockdown, grinding the country to a halt. Amid global social and economic upheaval, it has been a remarkable feat of international scientific endeavour and cooperation that we now have a safe and effective vaccine to the virus that has to date been given to over one billion people worldwide.
Pandemics are nothing new, but our collective response to this most recent one has been. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges and opportunities faced by the scientific community, and considerable achievements under unprecedented pressure and expectation, will pave the way for how we deal with the next one.
COVID-19 has highlighted just how important fundamental research in immunology and infectious disease is to protecting our global community. Image: Malaghan Institute.
Connections 32 eNewsletter out now
March 2021: The latest IRANZ newsletter is out now. Stuffed full of science research goodness from New Zealand's independent research organisations.
Read all about IRANZ's new research members; Malaghan experts weigh in on challenges with COVID-19 vaccines; MRINZ notes death rate down in NZ; MRINZ: Death toll from COVID-19 likely underestimated; HydroMetrics finds high levels of nitrate in water samples; Bragato's first vintage; Red seaweed hailed a ‘game changer’ in reducing carbon footprint; Aqualinc tables new report on Christchurch's groundwater levels; Xerra: Fishy behaviour?; Verum Group Acid-Base Accounting sets international benchmark; WSP: Quality of life ultimate goal for 'smart' communities; Mackie Research takes ACTIVATION role to boost Auckland’s active travel; Land and Water Science working on Landscape DNA; Malaghan: New drug shows promise in promoting MS recovery; and much more.
The BRI research winery completed all of its scheduled 2020 vintage trials. Image: Jep Gambardella, Pexels.
IRANZ appoints new Chair and welcomes new research members
March 2021: At a special meeting of IRANZ members on 17 March, Dr John Bright, CEO of Aqualinc, officially handed over the reins as Chair to Dr John McDermott, CEO of Motu Economic and Public Policy Research.
IRANZ continues to grow in size as New Zealand’s independent research sector continues to expand. With practical, real-world applications of their science, Independent Research Organisations (IROs) are key to New Zealand increasing business expenditure on research and development, and are a crucial pillar in a high-performing science system.
To that end, IRANZ welcomed four new members to the fold at the March meeting.
CEO of Aqualinc and outgoing IRANZ Chair Dr John Bright, left, Royal Society Te Apārangi President Prof. Wendy Larner and Chief Executive Prof. Dame Cynthia (Cindy) Kiro, and newly elected IRANZ Chair Dr John McDermott (Executive Director of Motu Economic and Public Policy Research) at BRANZ for IRANZ's special meeting. Image: Louise Thomas.
IRANZ news briefs
March 2021: Follow the link for more details on the March 2021 news briefs from our Independent Research Organisations.
- Motu’s John McDermott on Covid and the Economy at the Speaker’s Science Forum
- Charles Eason elected as a Fellow of the RSNZ
- Pūhoro STEM summer internship at Bragato Research
- Pūhoro STEM summer internship at Lincoln Agritech
- BRI welcomes Matt Mayernick
- Cawthron celebrates 100 years
- HERA goes carbon zero
- LASRA: Science fun for future scientists
Motu’s Dr John McDermott on Covid and the Economy at the Speaker’s Science Forum at Parliament. Image: Emma Williams, Motu.
LASRA hosts NZ Collagen Symposium
March 2021: LASRA hosted New Zealand's first Collagen Symposium this month in Wellington. LASRA Director Geoff Holmes says innovations in the market are growing demand for a diverse range of collagen products from medical devices to sustainable packaging. "Collagen forms a scaffold to provide strength and structure to the human body. Exogenous collagen is increasingly being used in cosmetic fillers and revitalisers, as well as wound dressings, tissue scaffolds and prosthetics. Collagen food supplements are said to have benefits for skin health, joint pain, bone loss, heart health and muscle mass."
Geoff says current manufacturing capacity cannot keep up with local demand, but there's a need to move quickly to take advantage of this situation to build a long term future for collagen processing in New Zealand.
The conference in Wellington was a high-level educational and motivational event targeted at industry, providing guidance on collagen's market potential, the hurdles in getting to market, and an opportunity for research groups and manufacturers within New Zealand already working in the field to network and present their findings.
HydroMetrics finds high levels of nitrate in water samples
March 2021: In February, HydroMetrics, a division of Lincoln Agritech, set up a water testing station on the Lincoln University campus. For a gold coin donation for the Farmstrong charity, anyone could bring in a rural drinking water sample in a clean jar or container and HydroMetric’s staff would test it for nitrates.
For this first trial, people brought in 59 water samples from local drinking water wells. Of those samples, 44 people agreed to allow HydroMetrics to share the results anonymously so others in the region could understand the potential issues.
HydroMetrics recorded two samples that exceeded the World Health Organisation (WHO) Maximum Allowable Value (MAV) of 11.3 mg/L Nitrate Nitrogen (NO3-N), but they were troubled to find that there were a large number of wells recording more than 50% of MAV.
Testing for nitrates at the pop-up water testing station on the Lincoln University Campus. Image: HydroMetrics.
Land and Water Science working on Landscape DNA
March 2021: Land and Water Science are currently working on a Sustainable Farming Fund Project to provide a web-based portal to bring Physiographic Science into the hands of the rural community so that they're empowered and able to make informed decisions regarding land management.
Director Dr Clint Rissmann says providing farmers direct access to ‘state of the art science’ in an easy to understand format will enable them to optimise the natural capital of their properties and make informed land-use decisions to minimise environmental impacts.
"Through this project, we are working directly with farmers and primary industry groups to design an open-access web-based platform. A steering group of farmers has been formed to advise our scientists how the rural community would like the science to be presented on the portal. We are also inviting representatives from related industries and interested groups to participate in an advisory capacity. This will ensure a platform is produced that is simple to access and easy to understand by the end user."
Landscape DNA portal.
WSP: Quality of life ultimate goal for ‘smart’ communities of any size
March 2021: The knowledge of what is going on with infrastructure in a city helps city managers to anticipate and plan for changes needed to investment and operations. For this, good geospatially-referenced data is crucial to making good decisions. City managers also need the capacity to analyse, diagnose, and communicate in order to improve quality of life for citizens – the ultimate goal of being ‘smarter’.
The management of public assets faces a similar challenge of ensuring that the goal of managing assets is to improve quality of life for the communities they serve.
A Building Better project by WSP’s Vivienne Ivory, Kai O’Donnell, and Phil McFarlane investigated how smaller local authorities can harness the power of smart data to analyse and diagnose infrastructure performance and allow communities to participate in decisions over the whole life of assets.
Verum Group Acid-Base Accounting sets international benchmark
March 2021: Verum Group Scientists Drs Hana Christenson and James Pope have developed some of the only standardised reference materials for acid-base accounting that are commercially available in the world.
James says it isn’t rocket science, but it was something that was lacking for those with a need for this type of geochemistry. Acid-Base Accounting is a suite of tests used in mining and land rehabilitation. The tests characterise mine waste so best-practice management can be carried out and problematic discharges (leachate) such as acid mine drainage can be minimised.
A South Island robin/kakaruwai checks out water quality parameters at a Verum Group downstream monitoring site on the West Coast - reminding us of the importance of site rehabilitation not just for human health. Image: Hannah Christenson, Verum Group.
Malaghan: International vaccine experts weigh in on challenges in developing and deploying COVID-19 vaccines
March 2021: Ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines are developed and deployed for those most vulnerable is a global challenge but can be addressed in a number of ways, according to a group of international vaccine experts in a review published in Science Translational Medicine.
The Malaghan Institute’s Dr Fran Priddy, Clinical Director of Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand – Ohu Kaupare Huaketo (VAANZ), was among those to contribute her expertise on the current vaccine response, outlining both the successes and key challenges remaining in this global pandemic.
“COVID-19 vaccine development has been a remarkable success at this point. However vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those in low-resource settings may require additional attention to benefit from the field’s advances.”
The Malaghan Institute’s Dr Fran Priddy. Image: Malaghan.
BRANZ: Wall design key to prevent heat loss
March 2021: Wall design will play a key role in the improved thermal performance of new houses as we move toward net-zero carbon construction. Recent BRANZ-funded research found problems with current wall construction, but another research project has developed high-performance details that take us ahead.
Walls in New Zealand houses are often constructed to Building Code minimums, and these are already low by international standards. New Zealand allows more than twice the heat loss through the walls of new houses than the UK and almost three times more than the EU. However, a set of construction details that deliver significantly improved thermal performance have been developed in a project involving the Passive House Institute New Zealand (PHINZ) and BRANZ. This is not theoretical – the results are from homes that have been consented and constructed.
Timber frame wall with an additional timber batten insulated service cavity. Image: BRANZ
New PlantTech partnership for NZ agritech AI research
March 2021: The PlantTech Research Institute and eScience Infrastructure (NeSI) have joined forces to boost AI computing power and tech for the agritech sector.
Their work will remove computer processing bottlenecks that limit the ability of data scientists to train artificial intelligence (AI) models that learn from high volumes of complex data. It will also reduce the turnaround times for current AI research. Horticulture and produce are among the first New Zealand industries to benefit from this faster AI computing infrastructure, with PlantTech scientists using it to explore new approaches to data-driven horticulture in key sectors, including kiwifruit.
PlantTech's Research Director Ian Yule says they can achieve a lot with the computing systems currently available. "However, there are challenges that we simply cannot address without the step up to a true supercomputing architecture.”
PlantTech's Research director Prof Ian Yule and Chief Executive Dr Mark Begbie. Image: PlantTech.
Red seaweed hailed a ‘game changer’ in reducing carbon footprint
March 2021: Asparagopsis, a native red seaweed, has huge potential as a methane-busting cattle feed supplement - studies show the superfood can cut methane emissions from cattle by up to 90 per cent. Cawthron Institute's Dr Johan Svenson spoke with TVNZ One News about the work Cawthron scientists are doing to learn about its life cycle and develop reliable methods of scaling-up production to the levels required to make a real-world impact.
Farms for the seaweed are in the process of being established and the lifestock feed supplement is expected to hit the market in 2022.
Read the Cawthron opinion piece developed to support the TVNZ One News story: Cawthron’s approach to researching ‘methane-busting’ asparagopsis.
Johan Svenson on TVNZ 1
BRANZ: Atmosphere and material durability
March 2021: BRANZ research is expanding our knowledge of how multiple factors influence building material corrosion. This will lead to a new way of mapping corrosivity and allow the right materials to be specified for different environments.
Material for buildings contribute around 16–24% of residential building development costs. The materials are required to meet the durability requirements of the New Zealand Building Code to address potential corrosion risks. This poses huge challenges since corrosion is influenced by multiple factors and varies considerably across New Zealand’s diverse and unique environments.
BRANZ national material environmental performance monitoring. Image: BRANZ
MRINZ: Death toll from COVID-19 likely underestimated
March 2021: The number of deaths (mortality) that COVID-19 is responsible for may be grossly underestimated. Counts based only on the 'cause of death' recorded on a death certificate may not capture deaths from undiagnosed COVID-19, or deaths as a result of a strained care system (delaying investigation and care). MRINZ scientists say it is likely that COVID-19 related deaths have been underestimated by at least 35%.
In a paper published in the European Respiratory Journal, they say deaths related to COVID-19 may be better accounted for by looking at 'excess mortality', which is the difference between the actual and expected deaths from all causes.
MRINZ plotted the weekly reported all-cause mortality in 2020 against average death rate and reported COVID-19 deaths in 22 countries. The above chart shows USA, the patterns of higher than expected actual deaths are mirrored in other countries. Image: MRINZ.
Motu: Lockdowns need not reduce wellbeing
March 2021: Overall wellbeing increased in New Zealand in the first COVID-19 lockdown from late March to early May 2020, says Motu Senior Fellow, Dr Arthur Grimes in a recent contribution to the British Medical Journal.
This improvement happened in most population sub-groups, even among more disadvantaged groups. Also, self-rated health and self-rated financial wellbeing increased. These improvements were not so for many other countries.
Dr Grimes says New Zealand's performance in lockdown is because of how the lockdown was done: both comprehensively and effectively. He said that wellbeing and health should not be regarded as competing aims to be traded off: both can be achieved through an effective lockdown accompanied by other supportive policies.
Cawthron: National Algae Research Centre to open this year
March 2021: The Cawthron Institute is set to advance its world-leading algae research with the launch of its National Algae Research Centre in May this year.
Thanks to $6m of funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, the Centre will enable Cawthron to expand its internationally recognised work in the rapidly growing algae sector and create value for existing and new partners.
Based at Cawthron’s Aquaculture Park at the Glen, the National Algae Research Centre will predominantly focus on macroalgae (seaweed).
Seaweed cultivation is the world’s fastest growing aquaculture sector, with the global seaweed industry worth more than US$6bn per year. There are many species that have the potential to be transformed into a range of commercial products as well offering environmental benefits to counteract climate change.
Image: Cawthron Institute.
Xerra: Fishy behaviour?
March 2021: Xerra Earth Observation Institute has won a $100K AUD research bid to help the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation’s Analytics Lab Program (AGO Labs) build new industry capability in the areas of machine learning and analytics.
Xerra and AGO analysts will be working together to develop a model to detect anomalies in maritime vessel behaviour at sea, in particular identifying vessels whose behaviour (e.g. speed, location, track shape) deviates from the normal activity for vessels of its type. This work will enable AGO analysts to focus their attention on vessels that are anomalous, or behaving in out of the ordinary ways.
This work will be a continuation of Xerra’s research and algorithm development for the Starboard platform - using vessel transponder data (AIS) and satellite data to analyse vessel behaviour at sea, searching for evidence of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, human rights abuses, and other related activities.
Xerra's Starboard Maritime Intelligence program to monitor vessels entering New Zealand's waters. Image: Xerra.
IRANZ welcomes new Cawthron CEO
March 2021: IRANZ would like to extend a warm welcome to Volker Kuntzsch, the new Chief Executive of the Cawthron Institute, to New Zealand's independent research fold as he formerly picks up the reins at Cawthron today.
Volker has a distinguished international career in the seafood industry spanning more than 30 years. He was formerly the President of Nippon Suisan (USA), and President and CEO of King & Prince Seafood Corp (USA), before joining New Zealand seafood company Sanford as CEO in 2013. He has also held senior executive roles in Tokyo, Namibia, Germany, and the United Kingdom, and holds a Master of Science from the University of Stellenbosch.
“I am humbled by the privilege to lead Cawthron’s highly reputable team in delivering world-class science for a better future. It is almost impossible for me to contain my excitement about embarking on this purposeful journey to help understand and realise Aotearoa New Zealand’s opportunities in aquaculture and the freshwater environment,” says Volker.
Image: Cawthron Institute.
Mackie Research to boost Auckland’s active travel
February 2021: Hamish Mackie from Mackie Research has a vision of cities that are safe and easy for walking, biking, and other forms of active transport. Places where people choose and are encouraged to take an active role in getting to the destinations of their daily life, whether getting to work, accessing services and amenities, seeing whānau and friends, or just visiting our public places such as parks and gardens. It’s a vision that sees our population as physically active, socially connected, and allows our older citizens to stay active for longer and age in place supported by family and friends.
“COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to think about different transport and travel options that could benefit people as well as the planet. Walking, biking, and using public transport can offer effective and equitable ways to increase physical activity across the whole population." Image: Hamish Mackie.
Aqualinc: Artesian groundwater and liquefaction
February 2021: Can deep artesian groundwater contribute to liquefaction hazard? A recent paper in Engineering Geology by Simon Cox, GNS Science, Helen Rutter, Aqualinc, and others explores the potential impacts of deep artesian groundwater under Christchurch on the liquefaction that occurred during the 2010/2011 earthquake sequence.
Vast quantities of liquefaction repeatedly inundated properties around Christchurch during the Canterbury earthquakes, causing significant damage to buildings and urban infrastructure. Dr Rutter says there is a strong spatial correlation between the occurrence of ejected sediment with groundwater pressure in deep aquifers.
Image: Helen Rutter, Aqualinc.
Malaghan/Harvard research shifts thinking on immune system cells
January 2021: A recent Malaghan Institute collaboration with Harvard Medical School is changing how we think about cells in the immune system and the role they play in generating immune responses.
Current thinking is that each type of immune cell plays a distinct role in generating a specific immune response. However, recent findings published in Nature Immunology throw water on this belief, proposing that for at least certain types of immune cells, they have a spectrum of different responses, depending on the type of threat they encounter. Rather than one cell equals one function, some immune cells change how they respond each time they encounter a new stimulus. This has far reaching implications in understanding the immune response and designing new therapies and treatments.
An artistic image of an immune cell. Image: Malaghan Institute of Medical Research.
Malaghan: New drug shows promise in promoting MS recovery
January 2021: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative disease characterised by chronic inflammation in the brain which causes progressive damage to neural cells resulting in physical and cognitive disability. While MS symptoms can be managed by controlling this inflammation, to date there are limited options for the repair and recovery of these damaged neurons.
However, a recent publication by Malaghan Institute MS programme leader Professor Anne La Flamme, Victoria University of Wellington Associate Professor Bronwyn Kivell, and University of Kentucky Professor Thomas Prisinzano has shown that the drug nalfurafine has the potential to not only slow the accumulation of disability, but also to restore function in experimental models of the disease.
The MS research team. Image: Malaghan Institute of Medical Research.
Aqualinc tables new report on Christchurch's groundwater levels
January 2021: Aqualinc's new report on the impacts of earthquakes and sea level rise on shallow groundwater levels across Christchurch city has been received by the Christchurch City Council’s Three Waters and Infrastructure Committee.
The investigation used a combination of analysis of data from the Christchurch shallow piezometer network and groundwater modelling, partially using Aqualinc’s Canterbury Groundwater model.
The work forms part of CCC’s multi-hazard study to inform floodplain management.
“This is a gap-filling report that will help us understand the impacts that future groundwater level changes may have across Christchurch city, adding to our knowledge base on natural hazards,” says CCC’s Head of Three Waters and Waste Helen Beaumont.
The report also involves input from Beca and Seequent.
Bragato's first vintage
January 2021: The BRI research winery completed all of its scheduled 2020 vintage trials, allowing winery staff and industry clients to reflect on the process as well as the research outcomes.
From the 2020 vintage, the research winery completed nine commercial trials involving 67 ferments of both red and white wines, in addition to running their own research and process validation trials. The trials covered a diverse range including understanding the subtleties of how different yeasts influence Marlborough Sauvignon blanc flavours, through to measuring the impact of viticultural practices on wine flavours and colour.
“While vintage 2020 will be remembered as a most unusual harvest due to Covid-19, the fruit was healthy, disease free and ripened to produce some outstanding wines. The research winery was privileged to continue its operation under lock down with much success,” says Research Winery Manager Dr Tanya Rutan.
Image: Jep Gambardella, Pexels.
MRINZ notes death rate down in NZ
January 2021: Elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic has unsurprisingly resulted in a marked increase in the death rate. This has not, however, been the case for New Zealand. The team at the Medical Research Institute (MRINZ) have recently published a striking observation in The Lancet - that in 2020 the number of deaths decreased about four weeks into the first Alert Level 4 lockdown, falling below that expected based on mortality data from 2011-2019. Interestingly, death rates continued to remain low, even after the Alert Level was reduced and lockdown ended.
The continued reduction in weekly deaths might be partly due to the lack of an influenza epidemic in New Zealand in 2020. If fewer deaths were related to road traffic accidents, occupational causes, air pollution, and delayed access to healthcare, for example, these would be expected to rise again following the easing of public health measures like lockdown. Fortunately, this has not been the case. This is a contrast to the experience of many countries facing significantly increased mortality due to direct and indirect effects of COVID-19.
All case mortality in NZ by week: The teal line for 2020 mortality diverges from the expected death rate, and remains about 11% lower, from about four weeks into the first Alert Level 4 lockdown (pink area). Image: MRINZ.