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IRANZ science briefing released ▼
IRANZ news briefs ▼
MRINZ: Vaccination needle size matters ▼
Malaghan: Where MAIT cells live and their role in allergic disease ▼
Taiuru: Facial Recognition and Artificial Intelligence Profiling ▼
Motu: Urban water security - Assessing the impacts of metering ▼
Aqualinc: The groundwater crisis - the need for new data ▼
Lincoln Agritech: Identifying waterway health ▼
Cawthron: Research investigates carbon sequestration potential of kelp ▼
Bragato: Research in grapevine resilience ▼
Mackie: Rural crossroad crashes ▼
WSP: E-scooter safety back in the spotlight ▼
Scarlatti: Attraction and retention in the food & fibre industry ▼
Dragonfly: Ten years of northern bivalve surveys ▼
BRANZ: Building for our changing climate seminar series ▼
HERA 2023 year in review ▼
Motu: Does upzoning boost housing supply and improve affordability? ▼
Aqualinc: Ground source heating / cooling ▼
BRANZ: Do I really need to wash my house? ▼
Mātai: Legacy to create a meth-free Tairāwhiti ▼
Taiuru: Māori predictive TXT database ▼
Lincoln Agritech: Machine learning in agriculture ▼
Lincoln Agritech: The complexity of decreasing nitrate leaching ▼
Multimedia: Podcasts, radio, tv, video, and more from our members ▼
Follow us on social media ▼

IRANZ science briefing released

The Briefing for Incoming Ministers (Science, Innovation & Technology) was sent to the new Minister of Science, Innovation & Technology, the Hon. Judith Collins, as well as other ministers with an interest in the science portfolio early in February.

The IRANZ briefing says that New Zealand can only gain from increasing its investment in high-impact and excellent research, and says the Government must do this if it wants to achieve a high-performing economy, world-leading social well-being, protection for the environment, and an efficient 21st century infrastructure.

The briefing points out the Government plays a vital role in investing in and promoting scientific research, and that the Government’s SIT strategies, policies, and investment portfolios should consider impact across the entire research, science, innovation, and technology ecosystem, including IROs.

As well as outlining the role of the Independent Research Association (IRANZ) and its member organisations, the briefing outlined areas of concern for IRANZ within the current science system.


PromethION genome sequencer
PromethION genome sequencer at the Bragato Research Institute. Photo: Bragato Research Institute.
IRANZ news briefs
  • Nurturing future leaders: Transformative journey for Mātai interns
  • Gillies McIndoe: Recent awards
  • Malaghan's new Chair Sir Paul Collins
  • Motu welcomes new Senior Fellow Stuart Donovan and Fellow Tadhg Ryan-Charleton
  • Bragato Research appoints Interim CEO
  • Cawthron’s Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland Laboratories now accredited
  • People of Lincoln Agritech: Dr Abbas Jafari and Samantha Thomas
  • Troy Dougherty science and technology finalist in Welly Awards

Follow the link for more details on the February 2024 news briefs from our Independent Research Organisations.


summer interns at Mātai
The summer interns at Mātai. Photo: Mātai Medical Research Institute.
MRINZ: Vaccination needle size matters

The Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ) has unveiled crucial knowledge of how to determine the necessary needle length for successful intramuscular (IM) deposition of vaccines. A Research Review, titled 'IM Vaccination Needle Length: A Call To Arms,' was published in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet.

The research reveals that the standard 25 mm needle may fail to ensure successful intramuscular (IM) deposition of vaccines in a significant number of adults, especially in up to 45% of obese individuals.

Most vaccines, including COVID-19, are approved for IM injection in the deltoid muscle. MRINZ's two-year programme, using ultrasound measurements, identifies arm circumference and BMI as indicators for selecting the right needle length to ensure successful IM vaccination. For the recommended New Zealand deltoid site, a 38mm needle is preferred for arm circumferences larger than 35cm (men) and 30cm (women), addressing a critical gap in immunisation guidelines.


vaccination needle


Dr Alissa Cait
Dr Alissa Cait. Photo: Malaghan Institute.
Malaghan: Where MAIT cells live and their role in allergic disease

A clue about how we might target specific immune cells to prevent disease has been found in a recent study from the Malaghan Institute which investigated the role of MAIT cells in the development of allergies.

The research, published in the journal Allergy, showed that MAIT cells could both help and hinder the development of allergies depending on where they were found in the body. While the findings further compound the complex relationship between immune cells and allergic disease, they shed some much-needed light on how researchers might develop future treatments for allergic disease by targeting key cells.

“We found that a specific subset of immune cells called MAIT cells plays an important role in the development of allergies,” says Dr Alissa Cait who led this Health Research Council of New Zealand-funded work.

“Interestingly, we identified that this immune cell plays a different, and opposite, role in different tissues.”


Taiuru: Facial Recognition and Artificial Intelligence Profiling

Following the news attention in February 2024 that Foodstuffs North Island Limited's New World and PAK’nSAVE is trailing Facial Recognition Technology in supermarkets, Dr Karaitiana Taiuru of Taiuru and Associates writes about the trials and potential pitfalls.

"We use our image of our face as a modern-day password for many things including mobile banking, unlocking our phones, X (formerly Twitter), Firefox Klar, and an ever-increasing number of other online services. For some beneficiaries of Ministry of Social Development (MSD), they controversially use Facial Recognition to self identify themselves.

“For law enforcement agencies, Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) systems are used to decide many factors including who becomes a suspect in a police investigation. Now many consumers in New Zealand who visits New World or PAK’nSAVE supermarkets will likely be profiled with Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) in an effort to make shopping safer for customers and staff.”


facial recognition graphic
Motu: Urban water security - Assessing the impacts of metering

The use of water management tools, such as water metering and pricing, are likely to become increasingly important for addressing urban water security in Aotearoa New Zealand. Yet little is known about the impacts of metering and pricing on residential consumption across Aotearoa.

Through the LGOIMA and OIA process, researchers at Motu Public Policy Research attempted to collect data on residential water use from 67 local councils across Aotearoa to understand the impact of metering and pricing on consumption. Their data collection process reveals extensive urban water data gaps in Aotearoa, with clear implications for public accountability and efficient and effective water services reform.

By combining a series of complementary data sets, the researchers say preliminary analysis suggests metering and pricing does incentivise water conservation. Given this, it is likely urban areas investing in, and using, metering and pricing will be more able to respond to the growing pressures on water supplies from population increases, climate change, and ageing infrastructure.


water meter
Photo: Robert Linder, Unsplash.
Aqualinc: The groundwater crisis - the need for new data

The Harvard Data Science Review recently published an article by Aqualinc Research Senior Researcher Nick Dudley Ward, coedited with Nancy Potok.

The article examines the need for better data on groundwater systems, from both the resource and hazards points of view.

Nick discusses the large data gap that exists around critical groundwater resources located throughout the world. The unknowns include how much groundwater exists and exactly where it is located.

"Climate change and increased development have brought water resources to the forefront of mitigation strategies to counter drought, increased salinity, and other disasters that threaten food supplies, economies, and basic survival in numerous locations. More knowledge of groundwater is needed to have coherent, evidence-based public policies that respond successfully to climate change."

Nick has ongoing research to collect geophysical and groundwater data in New Zealand, particularly in Christchurch, Canterbury in the wake of the earthquakes in 2010–2011.


groundwater graphic
Lincoln Agritech: Identifying waterway health

The health of waterways is a major concern, but how can we identify if a river or stream is healthy or not?

The results of work done at Lincoln Agritech in conjunction with iwi and Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, suggest the answer lies in science and mātauranga Māori working together.

Ngāti Tahu-Ngāti Whaoa is a Waikato River iwi and has always had a diet containing mahinga kai (wild foods). Kaumatua had expressed concern about the state of the river and tributaries, noticing that the health and availability of tuna (eels) and koura (freshwater crayfish) had changed dramatically during their lifetime. This led the iwi to develop, in association with Landcare Research, the Wai Ora Māori Assessment Tool (WOMAT) app, which uses an observer’s sensory observations to assess the safety of kai gathered from a waterway.

At the same time, Lincoln Agritech led a “Critical Pathways” programme to understand how water and nutrients move through different catchments.


Juliet Clague
Dr Juliet Clague taking measurements in the Wharepapa Stream. Photo: Lincoln Agritech.
Cawthron: Global research investigates carbon sequestration potential of kelp

Could kelp be a secret weapon in the fight against climate change? A new research project aims to better understand how kelp contributes to carbon sequestration in our oceans.

The international collaboration, led by Aotearoa New Zealand’s Cawthron Institute with partners Sequench (NZ), Kelp Forest Foundation (Netherlands), and NatureMetrics (UK), has been funded by Oceankind – an organisation that supports initiatives to improve ocean health.

Project leader Dr Xavier Pochon of Cawthron Institute said seaweeds, in particular kelp, could be a significant source of the carbon sequestered in the ocean.

“Up until now, kelp’s contribution to the carbon cycle has remained unknown because we have not had the tools to measure it, so we’ve assembled a project team with the expertise to unlock this important information,” says Xavier.

“Our challenge is to quantify the kelp-derived carbon in marine sediments which would revolutionise our comprehension of the role kelp forests’ are playing.”


Photo: Kindel Media, Pexels.
grapevine seedling
RNA molecules being applied to young grapevines with a sprayer. Photo: Bragato.
Bragato: Research in grapevine resilience

Over the coming decades, the changing climate is expected to bring seasonal variability, increased frequency of extreme weather events, and heightened disease pressure. Growers are at the mercy of the environment, and while every effort is made to plant varieties that are resistant to pathogens and will do well in the volatile warming climate, grapevine breeding is a time-consuming process.

But what if there were a way to improve the resilience of the existing vines in a way that was specific, yet adaptable? That is exactly what researchers in Bragato Research Institute’s (BRI) Grapevine Improvement team hope to map out with the Tuned Vines project. The aims of this project are two-fold: to understand how grapevine genes are turned on/off (epigenetics) in response to environmental cues, and to investigate methods to regulate grapevine genes in a specific and reversible manner.

Together, these efforts could provide researchers at BRI with the knowledge and capability to develop a tool to ‘tune’ grapevines to be, for example, disease resistant and drought tolerant.


Mackie: Rural crossroad crashes

The Mackie Research team is working with the AA Research Foundation (AARF) to address safety at rural crossroads in New Zealand. In recent years, a number of serious crashes have occurred at rural crossroads caused by drivers failing to realise they needed to stop or give way. Due to the speeds involved, these crashes have resulted in serious injuries and fatalities. Waka Kotahi has been working on this, and Mackie Research's current AARF human factors research supports this work.

Mackie Research is undertaking a two-phase project. The first phase involved detailed safe system/human factors reviews of rural crossroad crashes to better understand common causal factors (e.g., road geometry, signage and markings, or driver characteristics). Based on the findings of this review, and expert feedback, the team is now completing a trial using digitally altered video of New Zealand roads. The goal of the trial is to better understand what types of road signage and markings are visible and attention grabbing for drivers approaching a rural crossroad.


rural intersection
Crashes at rural cross-roads are relatively common despite low traffic volumes. Following several serious crashes, Mackie Research is working to identify interventions to mitigate 'failure to yield' crashes. Photo: Mackie Research.
WSP: E-scooter safety back in the spotlight

January’s tragic e-scooter death, the third in nearly as many years, prompts WSP research manager Louise Malcolm to reflect on the role these two-wheeled machines are playing in the micro-mobility renaissance – especially when it comes to the safety of riders and other footpath users.

For short journeys, e-scooters are a great low carbon alternative to gas guzzling cars. But, as with bikes, tumbling off can have disastrous, and costly, consequences. Between 2018 and 2022, the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) reported ten thousand e-scooter injury claims worth $30m.

The crux of the safety issue, says Louise, is that e-scooters are allowed on footpaths in Aotearoa New Zealand. That's different to most of the rest of the world, where they can only be ridden on cycle lanes, or, in some cases, the road.


In much of the EU, e-scooters are regulated and treated like a motor vehicle. Rules in Europe differ from place to place, but in general riders must wear helmets, the minimum age for riding an e-scooter is sixteen, passengers are banned, and mobile phones can’t be used. Some jurisdictions, such as Paris have banned e-scooters altogether because of rising deaths and injuries from accidents. Photo: WSP.
Scarlatti: Attraction and retention in the food & fibre industry

Scarlatti worked with the Food and Fibre CoVE to understand why workforce shortages have persisted across the food and fibre sector and what opportunities are available to address these in the future.

For many years, the food and fibre sector has struggled to attract and retain people into its workforce and to attract students to food and fibre related studies. In response to this challenge, industry organisations, government agencies and employers have researched, trialled, and implemented a range of strategies and initiatives to address workforce shortages. These initiatives have focused on attracting people to the workforce and, to a lesser extent, retaining people in the workforce and improving productivity to reduce the workforce requirement.

Despite these efforts, businesses across the sector continue to struggle to find and keep the employees they require to operate. Workforce shortages have been exacerbated in recent years by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the closure of New Zealand’s borders during this time. These challenges are not unique to the food and fibre sector – they are shared by many other industries also.


food scientist
Photo: Pixabay, Pexels.
Dragonfly: Ten years of northern bivalve surveys

Last year, Dragonfly Data Science's Katrin Berkenbusch along with Tyla Hill-Moana, Emma Crawford, a team of field assistants, and local hapū completed ten years of summer cockle and pipi surveys in northern North Island.

These surveys for Fisheries New Zealand sample 12 beaches from Waikato to Northland and Bay of Plenty over the summer to determine the number and size distribution of the cockle and pipi populations. The sites are selected from a pool of over 30 sites across the northern region. Each summer, it takes the team of seven to eight people about three weeks to take cores of samples that are then sieved to record the number and sizes of bivalves found.

“I never expected I’d be doing it this long”, says Katrin. “The first year was really full-on as everything was new, but it’s got better as we’ve refined our methods. Then in the last 3 years, we’ve had to contend with COVID-19, lockdowns and cyclones.”

Last year, Katrin had to cut her trip short, heading south as cyclone Gabrielle was hitting northern New Zealand, and Auckland entered a state of emergency.


bivalve survey
Members of the field team counting and measuring bivalves. Photo: Dragonfly Data Science.
BRANZ: Building for our changing climate seminar series

Recently, Aotearoa New Zealand experienced a range of extreme weather events that caused extensive damage to communities throughout the country. Many homes were significantly affected, with a large number left uninhabitable and unrepairable.

With climate change resulting in the built environment being exposed to extreme weather events on a more regular basis, we need to consider how we can create resilient buildings now and in the future.

This nationwide BRANZ seminar series looks at design and construction options that will result in residential buildings that perform more effectively in extreme conditions. Long-period intense rainfall, surface flooding, high winds, and other natural phenomena such as earthquakes will have a more regular impact on performance.


BRANZ: Building for our changing climate seminar series
HERA 2023 year in review

In 2023, HERA has increased, initiated, and built upon a number of world-leading research programmes.

These programmes reinforce HERA and Aotearoa New Zealand’s leadership in research related to low carbon design, circular design, and Industry 4.0 in both the construction and manufacturing sectors.

HERA CEO Troy Coyle writes that HERA built cross-disciplinary research teams, that include the best researchers in the world, to solve industry problems.

"Our $10.3 million MBIE Endeavour funded Construction 4.0 research programme now has more than 50 researchers (including research students) across nine universities/research organisations engaged."

In 2024, HERA are planning to release a book to showcase the sectoral roadmap required for a Construction 4.0 transformation. "Many aspects of this research will be at the forefront of international developments in this field. This includes the engine room of this research – the circular design research programme - which HERA’s Dr Michail Karpenko is leading. It also includes incorporation of indigenous knowledge, through the Mātauranga Māori theme, led by AUT’s Associate Professor Fleur Palmer."


HERA House
Motu: Does upzoning boost housing supply and improve affordability?

Motu Senior Fellow Stuart Donovan has written an opinion piece for The Spinoff. In it, he relates the economic evidence on upzoning and its effects on housing supply and affordability to Wellington City Council's ongoing District Plan process.

"Little Wellington is facing big decisions about whether to embrace more apartments and townhouses. The hot question is: will upzoning lead to more houses and improve affordability? According to the independent hearings panel making recommendations on Wellington’s proposed District Plan, the answer is 'no'. In its first report, the panel decided 'enabling intensification does not, of itself, improve or even address affordability'.

"These views are – to put it politely – wildly out of step with the economic evidence. To understand why, we only need to look at Auckland, where the Unitary Plan enabled widespread upzoning from circa 2013 onwards."


Building consents graph
Building consents per 1000 residents. The panel’s implicit assumption that upzoning wouldn’t have similar effects in Wellington isn’t supported by data. Housing supply in Wellington has lagged behind Auckland for most of the last three decades, with the gap narrowing and widening following downzoning and upzoning. Image: Motu.
Aqualinc: Ground source heating / cooling

In the January issue of Canterbury Farming Newspaper, Dr Helen Rutter talks about "Ground source heating / cooling: An eco friendly opportunity for farms?"

Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) are becoming increasingly popular in urban settings, particularly where there is a drive towards more sustainable, carbon-friendly heating and cooling options.

"These systems work in a similar way to air source heat pumps (that are normally used for domestic heating and cooling), but obtain their thermal energy from groundwater.

"In many systems (called open-loop systems), groundwater is abstracted from an aquifer, circulated through an air conditioning unit, and returned to the ground (or sometimes into a river or lake). The reinjection is usually at a different depth to the abstraction depth to reduce thermal interference between the abstraction and injection bores."


ground source heating diagram
Eco alternative: Implementing innovative use of ground source heat pumps has the potential to enhance the efficiency, sustainability, and over-all productivity of farming operations while reducing the environmental impact. Image: Aqualinc.
washing windows
Photo: BRANZ.
BRANZ: Do I really need to wash my house?

BRANZ Materials Scientist Fiona Norten writes that if you maintain your home, it will look after you by maximising the lifespan of its individual components.

"Clause 'B2 Durability' is the least-loved section of the New Zealand Building Code." Fiona says it tends to get forgotten, but it is fundamental to the long-term enjoyment of any building.

"B2.1 states, ‘The objective of this provision is to ensure that a building will throughout its life continue to satisfy the other objectives of this code.’ In this way, B2 underpins everything else in the Code."

"Once a building is complete, people expect to get use of it for many, many years. But exactly how many years should you expect from your building? Will the walls last as long as the roof? How about the windows?"

Fiona says many people are shocked to discover how many building elements are covered by a 15-year requirement, including elements such as non-structural roofing, cladding, windows, and doors.

"An occupier would expect to get a lot more than 15 years out of many of these basic elements, and this is where good maintenance comes in."


Mātai: Legacy to create a meth-free Tairāwhiti

The late Tuta Ngarimu was committed to ridding the region of methamphetamine and that mission continues through two organisations he worked tirelessly for — The P Pull Movement and Manaaki Moves Trust.

Before Mr Ngarimu’s passing, he set up a collaboration with Gisborne-based Mātai Medical Research Institute to map the effects of meth on the brain and heart. The study performed a dual purpose. Not only did it give participants a reason to remain abstinent, it also presented participants with key information.

“In a couple of cases we’ve seen there has been a significant finding, which we have passed on to cardiology,” researcher Paul Condron says.

The studies are in early number-crunching days, but Paul says they do see recovery with abstinence.

“Isolation is one of the critical aspects of people not being able to perform abstinence. Tuta wanted to understand why people start using it in the first place."


Tuta Ngarimu
Tuta Ngarimu. Photo: Gisborne Herald/Mātai.
old cell phones
Taiuru: Māori predictive TXT database

Using word frequency lists including a Māori predictive text list and lists of common Māori words in both New Zealand English and Māori, Dr Karaitiana Taiuru of Taiuru and Associates analyses which words would be most beneficial in a Māori predictive text database and introduces the need to update New Zealand English databases used for predictive texting and spell checking.

"There are over 16,000 Māori words that have been incorporated into the New Zealand English language. From this list, there are 456 common Māori words in the English Language that should be included in a default New Zealand English dictionary, spellchecker, and predictive text, if it is not possible to include the whole 16,000 words.

"From an estimated total of 150,000 Māori words, Boyce (2006) suggests that there are about 1000 common Māori words that are frequently used by Māori speakers. This list should form the basis of any Māori language proofing tool including predictive text."

"Operating systems that allow the community to create predictive text and spell checkers are becoming popular and include Android, Microsoft Custom Dictionaries and Open Source tools such as Aspell. As such, the need to offer words lists and research to assist developers is now long overdue."


Lincoln Agritech: Machine learning in agriculture

“I never thought I’d work in agriculture – I wasn’t planning to work in agriculture. But actually, there’s a lot of [machine learning and AI] work in agriculture.”

In this episode of Plains FM podcast Duct Tape and Flip Flops, Machine Vision Principal Scientist Jaco Fourie talks to 'Josh and Josh' about how machine learning and AI can bring advances in our primary industries.

He answers questions such as when did Lincoln Agritech start, and how has it grown since then? How important is it to design research projects around the needs of industry? And what have robots got to do with forestry?

Have a listen to learn more about machine learning in agriculture – the interview starts soon after 8:10.


Jaco Fourie
Jaco Fourie sets up in a vineyard for a machine vision and image processing project. Photo: Lincoln Agritech.
Lincoln Agritech: The complexity of decreasing nitrate leaching

Reducing nitrogen losses from farms is more cost-effective in areas with low natural nitrogen attenuation than in high-attenuation areas, according to a new report from Lincoln Agritech.

And in catchments with higher natural attenuation, groundwater targets could still be met with higher nitrate leaching than in lower-attenuation catchments – but more detail is needed to be certain about individual farms.

Agricultural economist Phil Journeaux prepared the report, Economics of Attenuation Rates in the Piako and Waiotapu Catchments, for Lincoln Agritech, at the end of its Critical Pathways programme.

The five-year programme investigated land-to-water nitrogen transfers, including nitrogen attenuation, in Waikato. It aimed to reveal the economic costs and benefits of identifying nitrogen attenuation rates.

Lincoln Agritech's Programme leader Roland Stenger explains that natural attenuation happens when micro-organisms convert nitrate into gaseous forms of nitrogen.


Lincoln Agritech Technician Brian Moorhead
Lincoln Agritech Technician Brian Moorhead takes measurements at the Piakoiti Stream monitoring site. Photo: Lincoln Agritech.
Multimedia: Podcasts, radio, tv, video, and more from our members

Check out the IRANZ multimedia page for more.


Cawthron: Oyster vaccine set to save multi-million dollar industry

Research is underway to combat a virus that's devastated New Zealand's multimillion-dollar Pacific oyster industry. Nelson's Cawthron Institute has been granted $1 million over three years to develop a vaccine for Pacific oyster mortality syndrome, also known as Poms.

HERA: Ep.104 – Pioneering seismic research in Aotearoa

In this episode of Stirring the Pot HERA talks with Shahab Ramhormozian. Shahab is an Associate Professor in Structural and Earthquake Engineering at Auckland University of Technology. Join HERA as they chat with him about being awarded the INN0V8 impact industry award at the 2023 HERA Future Forum Industry Awards.

Malaghan: Could eradicating a bacterial infection be the key to preventing stomach cancer?

Kate Maclean is a clinical researcher in the Le Gros laboratory at the Malaghan Institute who will soon be applying her expertise in human hookworm to human bacteria, with the aim of reducing the incidence of stomach cancer in New Zealand.

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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, DigiLab, Dragonfly Data Science, Gillies McIndoe Research Institute, Heavy Engineering Research Association (HERA), International Global Change Institute (IGCI), Land & Water Science, Leather & Shoe Research Association (LASRA), Lincoln Agritech Ltd, Mackie Research, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, Manawatū AgriFood Digital Lab, Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ), Mātai Medical Research, M.E Research, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, New Zealand Brain Research Institute, New Zealand Institute of Minerals to Materials Research, Scarlatti, Taiuru & Associates, Takarangi Research Group, Te Tira Whakāmataki, WSP, and Xerra Earth Observation Institute.

Contact: Dr Rob Whitney, Executive Officer, mobile: +64 27 2921050, email:

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