Video | Business Headlines | Internet | Science | Scientific Ethics | Technology | Search

 


Young scientists shine at MacDiarmid Awards

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Young scientists shine at MacDiarmid Awards

Genetic research that will play a crucial role in the conservation of one of the world’s rarest birds and a toxic relationship between grass and fungi are two projects by Massey scientists that received awards at the prestigious MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year ceremony in Auckland yesterday.

PhD students Damien Fleetwood and Hayley Lawrence were awarded a first-prize category award and a commendation.

One of six category winners, Mr Fleetwood received a prize of $2000 in the awards and Ms Lawrence was one of two students awarded a commendation.

Organised by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, the awards are named after New Zealand-born Nobel Prize-winning scientist Professor Alan MacDiarmid and are designed to publicly celebrate the achievements of New Zealand’s future leaders in science and to encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

Congratulations from Professor MacDiarmid were broadcast at the awards from the University of Pennsylvania, where he is based. He says that it is vital New Zealand scientists’ achievements are honoured and recognised in the same way as those of New Zealand’s sportspeople.

Damien Fleetwood, winner of the Adding Value to Nature category, is a PhD student in the Institute of Molecular BioSciences at Palmerston North. He is based at crown research institute AgResearch.

Titled A Toxic Tag Team, his research explores how fungi and grass combine to poison grazing animals. It focuses on the interaction between grass and a fungus it hosts called epichloë endophyte in a relationship he describes as a double-edged sword.

“Grass infected with the endophyte is protected from many insect pests but at the same time many strains produce toxic chemicals, including one called ergovaline, that are designed to stop the grass being eaten because they are toxic to grazing stock,” Mr Fleetwood says.

Animals that eat endophyte-infected grass producing ergovaline suffer effects ranging from poor weight gain to gangrene and death, at a potential cost of millions of dollars to the agricultural industries each year.
Mr Fleetwood’s work has helped identify a cluster of six genes that are responsible for producing the toxic chemical ergovaline and built up new knowledge about how they work and when the genes are switched on and off.

“Ultimately this will help us maximise the good agricultural effects of endophytes and minimise the bad ones,” he says.

Hayley Lawrence, awarded a commendation in the Understanding Planet Earth category, is a PhD student in the Institute of Natural Resources at the Auckland campus. She is developing techniques to help locate the burrows of the Chatham Island Taiko, one of the world’s most endangered seabirds.

It is estimated that there are between 120 and 140 birds remaining, with only 14 breeding pairs on the Chatham Islands. Ms Lawrence’s research on the behaviour and interactions of the rare bird in the wild involves the use of Taiko (magenta petrel) blood samples that will provide genetic identification for each bird.

These genetic identifiers will help researchers to help track birds to the family nest in underground burrows. When nests are found, improved trapping and poisoning of predators can be carried out to protect the critically endangered species.

A predator proof fence has already been built around an area on the Chatham Islands to create a safe breeding ground for Taiko. Ms Lawrence says she hopes her project, titled Can Whakapapa help save New Zealand’s rarest seabird, will also improve conservation efforts to establish a new colony. Her research is supported by the Department of Conservation.

ENDS


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Business Headlines | Sci-Tech Headlines

 

Scoop Business: NZ Dollar Falls To 3-Year Low As Investors Favour Greenback

The New Zealand dollar fell to its lowest in more than three years as investors sold euro and bought US dollars, weakening other currencies against the greenback. More>>

ALSO:

Scoop Business: NZ Govt Operating Deficit Smaller Than Expected

The New Zealand’s government’s operating deficit was smaller than expected in the first five months of the financial year as a clampdown on expenditure managed to offset a shortfall in the tax-take from last month’s forecast. More>>

ALSO:

0.8 Percent Annually:
NZ Inflation Falls Below RBNZ's Target

New Zealand's annual pace of inflation slowed to below the Reserve Bank's target band in the final three months of the year, giving governor Graeme Wheeler more room to keep the benchmark interest rate lower for longer.More>>

ALSO:

NASA, NOAA: Find 2014 Warmest Year In Modern Record

Since 1880, Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), a trend that is largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet’s atmosphere. The majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades. More>>

ALSO:

Scoop Business: New Zealand’s Reserve Bank Named Central Bank Of The Year

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s efforts to stifle house price inflation by using new policy tools has seen the institution named Central Bank of the year by Central Banking Publications, a publisher specialising in global central banking practice. More>>

ALSO:

Science Media Centre: Viral Science And Another 'Big Dry'?

"Potentially, if there is no significant rainfall for the next month or so, we could be heading into one of the worst nation-wide droughts we’ve seen for some time," warns NIWA principal climate scientist Dr Andrew Tait. More>>

ALSO:

Get More From Scoop

 
 
Standards New Zealand

Standards New Zealand
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sci-Tech
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news