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Collaboration Between Japanese And NZ Scientists

Collaboration Between Japanese And NZ Scientists Now A Step Closer

Comvita Limited, winner of the prestigious 2003 Consumer Products Exporter of the Year Award, has put its winnings to good use by hosting a visit by an internationally-acclaimed honeybee and propolis expert from Japan.

Associate Professor Jun Nakamura, from the Honeybee Science Research Centre at Tamagawa University, near Tokyo, has spent the last week with Comvita personnel discussing beekeeping and visiting scientists throughout the North Island. His busy schedule included a meeting with the man who received an MBE for his investigations into the antibacterial properties of honey, Dr Peter Molan, Professor of Biological Sciences at Waikato University.

Although well travelled in the course of studying the honeybee over the last 25 years, this is Dr Nakamura's first visit to New Zealand. It's also the first time he has seen manuka, the native plant which is unique to this country and which enables bees to produce the sought after manuka honey.

"The existence of manuka and manuka honey no doubt explains the huge focus on honey in New Zealand," says Dr Nakamura. "In Japan and elsewhere in Asia, the focus is more on other products of the honeybee, such as propolis."

Propolis is a subject close to the heart of this quiet, unassuming professional. The product, which has long been recognised as an effective treatment for all manner of infections, has found a big market in Japan and in other Asian markets.

"We are very aware of the health benefits to be gained from digesting propolis. There is major potential for it in Asia."

One of those charged with hosting Dr Nakamura during his visit was Comvita's technical manager, Denise Elliott. A registered naturopath, she says New Zealand propolis is finding a ready market in Asia.

"Our propolis is high in flavonoids. There's strong evidence to demonstrate that propolis is a powerful antioxidant because of the strength of the flavonoids it contains," she says. "Comvita has recognised the concentration and variety of flavonoids give propolis exceptional health benefits."

Elliott says propolis is still looked on as a mysterious bee product being a complex mixture of beeswax and plant resins collected by honeybees. Its powerful combination of antibacterial and antiviral properties has earned it a worldwide following."

Dr Nakamura endorses the many positive properties of propolis. "It's totally natural," he says, "so there are no major side-effects."

Some of his time here was spent viewing poplar trees - one of several varieties of trees which produce natural sap and resins with high flavonoid levels utilised in propolis.

"Honey bees gather the resins and add their own special substances to make propolis, which they use to protect the hive," he explains. "There's a strong conviction among Asians that propolis has very strong immune-boosting properties, which undoubtedly accounts for the upsurge of interest in propolis in Japan and elsewhere."

Comvita's CEO Graeme Boyd says Dr Nakamura's visit has strengthened the relationship Comvita has been building for some time with Tamagawa University.

"The aim of this relationship is to encourage collaborative research into New Zealand propolis between our scientists and Japan's," says Boyd. "This is an important step along the way. It has been fast-tracked by the grant received under the Consumer Products Export Award."

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