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Plant & Food Research scientists recognised at Awards

Plant & Food Research scientists recognised at Science NZ Awards

9 November 2018

A leading materials scientist, an emerging kiwifruit scientist and a team that develops genetic markers to enable breeders to select elite seedlings, all from Plant & Food Research, were honoured at the Science New Zealand 2018 National Awards at Parliament in Wellington.

Dr Nigel Larsen, Principal Scientist, was presented with the Plant & Food Research Lifetime Achievement Award for his 35 years of contribution to the knowledge of food science and materials science in New Zealand and overseas. In addition to co-founding the Biopolymer Network, a company that converts sustainable natural resources to biopolymers and biocomposite products, he has also played significant leadership roles in numerous large multi-year, multi-agency research projects in food science. Dr Larsen has led significant government-funded initiatives in collaboration with the New Zealand cereal industry to enhance the quality of the cereal-based consumer products that the industry produces. Most recently, he has been leading a multi-faceted strategy to lower the levels of proteins in foods made from New Zealand wheats that trigger coeliac disease. This involves projects across breeding, farming, milling and baking.

Dr Sarah Pilkington, Scientist, received the Plant & Food Research Early Career Researcher Award for her impact on the kiwifruit industry. As an early career researcher, she has already led a project that can save the industry millions of dollars in land and science resources a year. Male kiwifruit vines are pollinisers that are non-fruiting. Her work allowing unproductive male vines to be eliminated from the breeding programme at an early stage using a universal molecular marker is highly valuable.

The Mapping & Markers Team*, formed in 1992, received the Plant & Food Research Team Award. The teams work has cemented New Zealands position as the international leader in the development and application of molecular and genomic technologies to assist fruit breeders develop new varieties efficiently and in a targeted fashion. Their DNA marker technologies help breeders select genetically elite individuals that carry must have characteristics desired by consumers and growers from populations of thousands of seedlings. These range from enhanced sustainability, improved resistance to pests and diseases, to fruit colour, flavour and texture, as well as female plants in kiwifruit and hops. Current crops include apple, pear, hops, kiwifruit, raspberry, blueberry, summerfruit and, most recently, mānuka. Two of the original team members still contribute to teams research today.

Science New Zealand represents the country’s seven Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) including Plant & Food Research. The annual awards recognise research excellence at each CRI.


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