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Psa team takes top PM prize

Psa team takes top PM prize

The Plant & Food team that led the response to the kiwifruit vine-killing disease Psa has been recognised with the Prime Minister's Science Prize.

Dozens from the research team of over 100 were in Wellington on Tuesday night where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern presented the team with the $500,000 prize.

Plant & Food Research chief operating officer Dr Bruce Campbell said the kiwifruit industry in New Zealand was in a “golden period” in late 2010. “It was an easy crop to manage, the industry was growing well, and then suddenly everything changed on the 5th of November, 2010, when we discovered in a sample that we’d been sent that Psa was now here in New Zealand.”

“That was a really scary day for us because it meant that that world that we’d been in before was fundamentally changed, and the science was really going to have to dig deep and step up to find a solution.”

The industry’s recovery has been possible due to a new kiwifruit cultivar, Gold3, which is sold as Zespri® SunGold Kiwifruit.

Science video agency

The PM's Science Communication Prize went to Damian Christie, who plans to use the $100,000 prize money to establish New Zealand’s first science video news agency.

The prize recognises the success of Damian’s creation and production of ‘Jamie’s World on Ice’, which featured YouTuber Jamie Curry exploring Antarctica and relaying her findings to an international following on social media.

The video series gained more than 2.5 million views on social media, featured on television, radio, in several media publications and played on Air New Zealand international flights. It's now available on TVNZ OnDemand.

Nanotech win for emerging scientist

University of Otago's Dr Carla Meledandri was awarded the PM's MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize for her work at the forefront of developing applications for nanotechnology.

Her research includes incorporating silver nanoparticles into a range of products designed to treat and prevent dental disease. The products offer a new solution for tooth decay and may help make dental care more affordable.

Full details of the winners are available on the PM's Science Prizes website.

Quoted: NZ Herald
"The sequencing of the first draft moa genome, for a long time a holy grail of sorts, will allow scientists to finally bring the power of the genomic revolution that has swept through science to answering some of the big questions regarding moa evolution."

University of Otago ancient DNA expert Dr Nic Rawlence on
unpublished research reporting genome sequencing from a little bush moa.

Planning for future GM foods
Food safety regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is calling for suggestions about how it should consider GM foods using new gene editing technologies.

The current code only covers food produced by techniques that add DNA into a genome and doesn't cover newer gene editing techniques that knock out genes or proteins, or those that don't change the DNA of the final food product.

FSANZ's consultation report won't change the current regulations of labelling requirements but will inform future plans on the issue.

University of Otago's Professor Peter Dearden said new gene editing technologies, like CRISPR-Cas9, gave a more precise way of changing the DNA of an organism compared to the 'scattergun' approach of older technologies.

"This is incredibly timely, as products made with gene editing are already being developed overseas, and detecting a gene edited organism is much harder than detecting a transgenic one.

“These new technologies have enormous potential, but getting their regulation wrong may on one hand stifle innovation, and on the other cause disquiet about risk. I applaud FSANZ for asking questions about these technologies."

The consultation paper is open for submissions until April 12, 2018.

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the consultation paper.

Policy news & developments

MPI scholarships: The Ministry for Primary Industries is offering postgraduate science scholarships for Masters and PhD students working in primary industry research.

Conservation law bill: A bill to update parts of the Conservation Act to allow the Department of Conservation to issue infringement notices, rather than prosecuting for minor offences, has passed its first reading in Parliament.

Skink introduced to new island: 99 Te Kakahu skink have been transferred from Chalky Island to a new home on Anchor Island.

2018 Flu vaccine: The 2018 influenza vaccine will include protection against four strains of the virus. It will be funded by PHARMAC from 1 March.

DIRA passes: The Dairy Industry Restructuring Amendment Bill was passed under urgency in Parliament this week. It means the contestability provisions of the Act will no longer expire in the South Island at the end of May, giving more time for a review and consultation.

Gita support: The Government has contributed $2.25m to Tonga, Samoa and Fiji to aid with the emergency response and early recovery following Tropical Cyclone Gita.

Mycoplasma eradication still possible: Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor says initial results from the first round of milk testing for the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovissuggests eradication still a viable option.

Pay equity extended: An estimated 3,800 mental health and addiction workers have been included in the Care and Support Pay Equity Settlement.

Bowel cancer screening review: Minister of Health Dr David Clark has ordered an independent review of the National Bowel Screening Programme, after the pilot programme had some issues with updating addresses to ensure people received invitations to be screened. Three people may have been impacted by the delay, going on to develop bowel cancer, and one of those people has since died.

SKA investment criticised
Astronomers have questioned New Zealand's investment in the world's largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

The $2b project will be built in South Africa and Western Australia and is scheduled to be fully constructed by 2030. New Zealand is part of the consortium of ten countries contributing to the telescope's construction.

University of Auckland cosmologist Professor Richard Easther told the NZ Herald that many astronomers were sceptical about the "zombie project".

He said the project had been "down-scoped" and the timeline has been pushed so far out it was a "thin-shadow" of what had been talked about a decade ago when the project was first planned.

University of Canterbury astronomer Associate Professor Michael Albrow said he was concerned the project had been funded more as an IT infrastructure project rather than a science project.

"The majority of New Zealand astrophysics researchers feel that this particular project will not generate the greatest scientific return for New Zealand relative to its cost."

Dr Simone Scaringi, also at the University of Canterbury, said there hadn't been a process for consulting astrophysicists about the best way of supporting astronomy research in New Zealand. "Thus the benefits the SKA might provide to New Zealand science are extremely limited."

"The SKA will eventually be a revolutionary radio telescope. The key word here, however, is 'eventually'. The timeline for the development keeps being delayed, up to the point where various smaller incarnations of the project are now being considered."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's innovation and international science general manager Peter Crabtree said there had already been clear benefits from New Zealand's involvement with SKA.

The Ministry was still in discussions about longer-term financial contributions if SKA was set up as an international organisation under a convention.

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