Six Endeavour Fund successes for Plant & Food Research

17 September 2019

Technologies for offshore finish aquaculture, accelerated breeding pipelines, and sex pheromones for wasp management are amongst the six Plant & Food Research-led project proposals that have been awarded funding in the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment contestable Endeavour Fund 2019 round. 

Total funding for the six proposals amounts to $23.75 million. The project “Re-imagining Aquaculture” has been granted $18.75 million, the most of all 71 projects awarded nationwide. 

Plant & Food Research Group GM Science Services Philippa Stevens says the institute is delighted to have gained Government support and particularly for the “Re-imaging Aquaculture” project, which is part of the Open Ocean Aquaculture direction Plant & Food Research has undertaken. “It’s in line with our new Growing Futures™ Directions Strategy. While we do support this strategy internally, it’s a real bonus when we get external investment from MBIE as well.”

The Endeavour Fund projects are:

Successful Research Programme (awarded $18.75 million):

  • “Re-imagining aquaculture: inventing low-impact, offshore mobile technology that transforms finfish production”: It will deliver new technologies for offshore finfish aquaculture, providing New Zealand with opportunities to significantly increase high-value finfish production with a minimal environmental footprint. Conventional inshore finfish aquaculture will be complimented by the development of a Mobile Autonomous Production System (MAPS) that uses New Zealand’s abundance of clean, open waters to produce resilient, optimally growing fish within a sustainable and scalable production system. The vision is to develop a scalable production system which will make offshore finfish aquaculture accessible to a wide range of New Zealand investors and produce significant benefits to the broader New Zealand economy.

Successful Smart Ideas

  • “Targeting Specialty: Taxonomically restricted genetics for faster selection”: Accelerated breeding pipelines are critical for New Zealand’s horticultural industries to remain lucrative, providing cultivars with novel properties that respond to climate change, and deliver nutrition to a growing global population sustainably. To deliver these new cultivars at speed, we need to expand the knowledge of the underlying genetics of plant breeding material. This project will focus on Solanum, a group of species that includes potato, to develop methods for identification of species-specific DNA regions, particularly those involved in the control of important production traits. This knowledge will inform and improve the efficiency of breeding new cultivars with species-specific traits that offer novelty or sustainability characteristics for growers and consumers.
  • “Understanding spore/host recognition to prevent plant infection from ascomycete fungal pathogens”: Ascomycete fungal plant pathogens cause large economic losses in many New Zealand crops. This research aims to identify the pathways that are activated in the fungus during host recognition and develop inhibitors to disrupt the fungus in this early infection phase, stopping the disease from establishing. The project will identify, design, synthesise and test these inhibitors in the lab to determine their potential effectiveness in the field against the horticultural diseases of economic importance. Application of this new biological control science to manage fungal pathogens is supported by Horticulture NZ and Maori companies in the horticulture industries.
  • “Cellular agriculture of fish: premium seafood from immortalised cell lines”: Cellular agriculture, the production of agricultural products from lab-grown cells, is at the cutting edge of alternative protein technology worldwide. By “growing” food in the laboratory, there are opportunities to use fewer resources, and improve the environmental impact of food production through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints. This project would explore whether fish-meat cellular agriculture is possible and viable as an alternative to traditional meat production. The research will explore some of the technical challenges of growing fish cells in a laboratory, including how to grow the cells into 3D structures supporting ideal texture and mouth-feel characteristics.
  • “Sex pheromones of social wasps: From discovery to population disruption”: The invasion of New Zealand’s 1.2 million hectares of indigenous beech forests by Vespula (common) wasps represents one of the better researched ecological disasters caused by any invasive species, with major impacts on iconic endangered fauna. This research will identify the sex pheromones of the two main Vespula species in New Zealand, which can then be developed and exploited as an effective, additional management and control tool in beech forests on a large landscape scale. Trials using sex pheromones to control such social wasps in the natural ecosystem will be the first of their kind and will inform the identification of the sex pheromones of other species that post a threat to NZ’s natural ecosystem. 
  • “Using plant-microbe interactions to manipulate dormancy for increased post-harvest value”: Manipulation of potato tuber and onion dormancy is required for a continuous supply of quality product for fresh consumption and industrial processing. Researchers will take a novel approach to investigating dormancy in potato tubers with a goal of finding new methods for managing dormancy. They will use gene expression and biochemistry data to identify candidate compounds and processes for dormancy control. While our immediate target is potatoes (including taewa), our research will have relevance to other crops.

The Endeavour Fund is New Zealand’s largest contestable research fund. It provides investment to fund projects that have a high potential to benefit New Zealand or transform New Zealand’s future in areas of future value, growth or critical need.

Emma Timewell
Communications Manager, Corporate Communications,
Plant & Food Research Mt Albert,
120 Mt Albert Road, Sandringham
Auckland, 1025, New Zealand
Telephone: +64-9-925 8692
Mobile: +64-21-2429 365