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 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 picked up the reins at Cawthron on 1 March.
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.
Dr Frances Priddy, former Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Clinical Development at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative in New York, joined the Malaghan Institute to further work on a NZ COVID-19 vaccine solution. Image: Malaghan Institute.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 National Science Challenge 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.
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.
Although COVID-19 may negatively impact the popularity of mid-rise housing in the near future, this form of townhouses and apartments has been growing in popularity, accounting for over 40% of new residential consents last year.
Mid-rise housing has almost become synonymous with medium-density housing as the push for densification of our cities continues. This is aided by the lack of information around the growing trends of midrise housing. Storey information is lacking at best and unavailable in many cases.
Read the article by BRANZ Senior Research Analyst, Matthew Curtis.
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.
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."
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.
New PlantTech partnership for NZ agritech AI research
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.”
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.
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.
Did you know Cawthron has a radio show? If you live in Te Tau Ihu (the top of the South Island) you can catch the show live on Fresh FM (104.8) Wednesdays at 11:40am. Or, you can catch up online anytime, anywhere, via the FreshFM website. On 17 March, the show featured toxin chemist Dr Tim Harwood talking live from the Mussel Fest about marine biotoxins and seafood safety.
Rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in Pacific will be ‘really critical’ – Vaccine Alliance director
Professor Graham Le Gros from the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research was on TVNZ Breakfast on 19 February to talk vaccines as New Zealand's COVID-19 vaccination campaign gets underway.
He says it's all about "communication, communication, communication” with people who are still deciding whether to get vaccinated.
“We all want to play our role . . . We need to be informed if we are to play that role well."
IRANZ is an association of independent research organisations. Its members undertake scientific research, development or technology transfer. Members include Aqualinc Research Ltd, Bragato Research Institute, BRANZ, Cawthron Institute, Heavy Engineering Research Association (HERA), Land & Water Science, Leather & Shoe Research Association (LASRA), Lincoln Agritech Ltd, Mackie Research, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ), Mātai Medical Research,
Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, New Zealand Brain Research Institute, New Zealand Institute of Minerals to Materials Research, PlantTech Research Institute, Takarangi Research Group,
Te Tira Whakāmataki, Titanium Industry Development Association Ltd (TiDA Ltd), Verum Group, WSP, and Xerra Earth Observation Institute.