Conference a real buzz

Cross-pollination of knowledge at Manuka and More conference

Cross-pollination of knowledge at Manuka and More conference

MANUKA PURE: Environmental microbiologist Jaqui Horswell talked about the potential of manuka and kanuka in water purification at the Manuka and More conference this month.

Picture by Mark Peters
IMPACT: As part of a national science challenge to protect New Zealand’s biodiversity, improve biosecurity and enhance resilience to harmful organisms, Waikato University student Rachel Nepia is researching impact of the honey industry on indigenous biodiversity.
Picture by Mark Peters
MANUKA AND MORE: Evolutionary biologist Simon Hills of Massey University; Massey University's Institute of Education research and business development officer Kate Nolan, Vern Collette of Massey University, Phytomed Medical Herbs founder Phil Rasmussen and Manuka and More conference co-organiser Manu Caddie were among attendees and speakers at the two-day hui held in Ruatoria and Te Araroa this month.

Picture by Mark Peters

The excitement as scientists, academics and beekeepers cross-pollinated knowledge, and some educated guesses, at the Manuka and More conference held on the East Coast this month was palpable. They were buzzing.

Two consistent themes to come out of the Manuka and More conference were that more understanding between science and the Maori world view is needed and that manuka science is still in its early stages.

The impact of the honey industry on indigenous biodiversity was the focus of Waikato University student Rachel Nepia’s presentation. Gaps exist in the understanding of how honeybees function as part of New Zealand’s forests. It is hoped that Ms Nepia’s three-year research project will fill some of those gaps. The goal is more effective management of apiaries on public conservation lands.

The honeybee was introduced to New Zealand in 1839. Its population has doubled in the past five to 10 years, she said. “What are they doing to native forest?” Ms Nepia aims to look at the reach of honeybees in submontane forest (forest in the foothills or lower slopes of a mountain range) to see what species of honeybees are assisting and how that overlaps with native bee activity.

In her research, she will investigate what plants honeybees and native bees are visiting and how they overlap with native visitors. She will inquire if honeybees contact all the right parts of flowers to make pollination possible and will look into how much pollen is taken from flowers.

Honeybees have been seen to visit about 180 native plants, she said. They have the potential to supplement pollination of native plants and can improve biodiversity of plant life — but the introduced bees can cause mechanical damage to plants.

“Pollination is easier for some flowers than others.” Plants can also produce too much pollen as a result of honey bee visits. “Honeybees also have a suite of diseases that could be harmful to other insect species.”

One solution for cleansing water at sites such as stretches of the Waikato River that are high in sediments, nitrates, phosphorous and E. Coli was to plant out river edges, said environmental microbiologist Jaqui Horswell in her presentation about manuka and water purification.

Plants acted as a filter but do individual species do different things, she asked. Dr Horswell’s team trialled manuka plants and a range of grasses in buckets with a hole in the base for drainage. This was to compare manuka’s potential anti-microbial properties with pasture in terms of water purification.

“We put poos and wee on top of the bucket to see what happens.”

Only a small amount of nitrate leached from the manuka and kanuka buckets. Manuka can reduce E. Coli from leaching into waterways and the native plant took only four days to kill salmonella in the soil, she said to applause. “We think manuka stops bacterial action.” The science was speculative though, she said. “We don’t know, but we think because manuka is a pioneer plant it doesn’t want to store ammonia.”

A pioneer plant is one that is the first species to inhabit an area. It doesn’t want to share that area with other plants. Present in soil, water and air, ammonia is an important source of nitrogen for plants. Nitrogen promotes plant growth and improves fruit and seed production, resulting in a greater yield. Ammonia is converted to nitrates as it nitrifies bacteria in the soil. Excess nitrates have the potential to leach into waterways.

The team now wants to trial manuka in landscapes.

“What is the chance of a collaboration between universities and independent scientists to come up with erosion solutions on the Coast?” she asked with a view to bringing together erosion control and bee-friendly trees. The science needs to involve CRI (Crown Research Institute) hydrologists, she said.

To understand manuka’s unique chemistry, biology and diversity, food researcher Dr David Chagne’s team sequenced the plants genome. Sequencing the manuka genome opens new possibilities, he said.

A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. Genome sequencing is figuring out the order of As, Cs, Gs and Ts (the letters the sci-fi movie Gattaca took for its genetic-prejudice plot) that make up an organism’s DNA.

The manuka genome is made up of about 300 million DNA bases. This compares with the human genome which is made up of more than three billion genetic letters. Dr Chagne’s team sequenced 11 chromosomes from a type of manuka known as Crimson Glory and posed the question as to how to use the genome to inform a new cultivar development.

A cultivar is a plant variety that has been produced by selective breeding. A manuka cultivar could produce a plant that is resistant to fire blight, for example, said Dr Chagne.

Diversity in manuka’s chemical composition enables scientists to distinguish differences in manuka plants across the region. This could help identify the provenance of branded manuka honey in much the same way as the provenance of wine is identified.

“Funding will enable them to work on manuka honey landscapes to find the uniqueness of manuka.”

Scientists need local manuka honey producers to tell them where to collect samples, he said.

“Tell us what you see as a value, as knowledge. We are keen to work together. The key is to define what the uniqueness is of manuka that grows here on these hills. You need to demonstrate the uniqueness.”

The excitement as scientists, academics and beekeepers cross-pollinated knowledge, and some educated guesses, at the Manuka and More conference held on the East Coast this month was palpable. They were buzzing.

Two consistent themes to come out of the Manuka and More conference were that more understanding between science and the Maori world view is needed and that manuka science is still in its early stages.

The impact of the honey industry on indigenous biodiversity was the focus of Waikato University student Rachel Nepia’s presentation. Gaps exist in the understanding of how honeybees function as part of New Zealand’s forests. It is hoped that Ms Nepia’s three-year research project will fill some of those gaps. The goal is more effective management of apiaries on public conservation lands.

The honeybee was introduced to New Zealand in 1839. Its population has doubled in the past five to 10 years, she said. “What are they doing to native forest?” Ms Nepia aims to look at the reach of honeybees in submontane forest (forest in the foothills or lower slopes of a mountain range) to see what species of honeybees are assisting and how that overlaps with native bee activity.

In her research, she will investigate what plants honeybees and native bees are visiting and how they overlap with native visitors. She will inquire if honeybees contact all the right parts of flowers to make pollination possible and will look into how much pollen is taken from flowers.

Honeybees have been seen to visit about 180 native plants, she said. They have the potential to supplement pollination of native plants and can improve biodiversity of plant life — but the introduced bees can cause mechanical damage to plants.

“Pollination is easier for some flowers than others.” Plants can also produce too much pollen as a result of honey bee visits. “Honeybees also have a suite of diseases that could be harmful to other insect species.”

One solution for cleansing water at sites such as stretches of the Waikato River that are high in sediments, nitrates, phosphorous and E. Coli was to plant out river edges, said environmental microbiologist Jaqui Horswell in her presentation about manuka and water purification.

Plants acted as a filter but do individual species do different things, she asked. Dr Horswell’s team trialled manuka plants and a range of grasses in buckets with a hole in the base for drainage. This was to compare manuka’s potential anti-microbial properties with pasture in terms of water purification.

“We put poos and wee on top of the bucket to see what happens.”

Only a small amount of nitrate leached from the manuka and kanuka buckets. Manuka can reduce E. Coli from leaching into waterways and the native plant took only four days to kill salmonella in the soil, she said to applause. “We think manuka stops bacterial action.” The science was speculative though, she said. “We don’t know, but we think because manuka is a pioneer plant it doesn’t want to store ammonia.”

A pioneer plant is one that is the first species to inhabit an area. It doesn’t want to share that area with other plants. Present in soil, water and air, ammonia is an important source of nitrogen for plants. Nitrogen promotes plant growth and improves fruit and seed production, resulting in a greater yield. Ammonia is converted to nitrates as it nitrifies bacteria in the soil. Excess nitrates have the potential to leach into waterways.

The team now wants to trial manuka in landscapes.

“What is the chance of a collaboration between universities and independent scientists to come up with erosion solutions on the Coast?” she asked with a view to bringing together erosion control and bee-friendly trees. The science needs to involve CRI (Crown Research Institute) hydrologists, she said.

To understand manuka’s unique chemistry, biology and diversity, food researcher Dr David Chagne’s team sequenced the plants genome. Sequencing the manuka genome opens new possibilities, he said.

A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. Genome sequencing is figuring out the order of As, Cs, Gs and Ts (the letters the sci-fi movie Gattaca took for its genetic-prejudice plot) that make up an organism’s DNA.

The manuka genome is made up of about 300 million DNA bases. This compares with the human genome which is made up of more than three billion genetic letters. Dr Chagne’s team sequenced 11 chromosomes from a type of manuka known as Crimson Glory and posed the question as to how to use the genome to inform a new cultivar development.

A cultivar is a plant variety that has been produced by selective breeding. A manuka cultivar could produce a plant that is resistant to fire blight, for example, said Dr Chagne.

Diversity in manuka’s chemical composition enables scientists to distinguish differences in manuka plants across the region. This could help identify the provenance of branded manuka honey in much the same way as the provenance of wine is identified.

“Funding will enable them to work on manuka honey landscapes to find the uniqueness of manuka.”

Scientists need local manuka honey producers to tell them where to collect samples, he said.

“Tell us what you see as a value, as knowledge. We are keen to work together. The key is to define what the uniqueness is of manuka that grows here on these hills. You need to demonstrate the uniqueness.”

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