Science Digest: November – December 1995

Marsden Fund to double

The decision of the Minister of Research, Science and Technology, Hon. Simon Upton, to transfer the administration of the Marsden Fund and the Marsden Fund Committee from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology to the Royal Society, became effective from 1 December 1995. The Marsden Fund Committee, chaired by Dr Ian Axford FRS, will function as an independent entity and be accountable to the Minister under delegated authority for the purchase of research outputs which support and encourage excellence in science, enhance the underpinning scientific knowledge-base, and broaden and deepen the research skill base in New Zealand, regardless of whether or not the research contributes to the Government’s socio-economic priorities.

The Marsden Fund will have $11 million available for funding qualifying research in 1996/97, double the $5.5 million allocated in 1995/96. A further doubling to $22 million is forecast in 1997/98. Marsden Fund preliminary applications for 1996/97 are now being sought with a closing date of 19 February 1996. After considering the preliminary proposals, the Marsden Fund Committee will invite selected researchers to submit full proposals before the final selections are made. Paulette Ell, formerly finance and planning manager with the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, has been appointed by the Society as acting manager for the Marsden Fund until a full-time manager is appointed early in the new year. The Marsden Fund’s e-mail address is: marsden@rsnz.govt.nz

New awards for overseas travel

The Prince and Princess of Wales Science Awards and Young Scientists’ Fund are to be replaced by a new scheme, The Royal Society of New Zealand Science Awards. The Society has agreed to the restructuring of its awards for short-term overseas scientific visits following a review. The new Royal Society of New Zealand Science Awards will have three categories: (1) For beginning scientists to attend their first international scientific conference to present the results of their research; (2) For New Zealand scientists and technicians to travel overseas for up to two months to gain expertise and to use facilities not available in New Zealand; (3) For scientists and technicians with skills, expertise and new ideas to visit New Zealand for no more than two months.

Conditions of the awards include: no retrospective funding for travel; awards will not be available to scientists travelling overseas on sabbatical leave; two closing dates of 1 March and 1 October each year. Changes will be effective from 1 January 1996. In the second category of award the Society anticipates sending up to two career scientists to the United Kingdom each year under a scientific agreement with The Royal Society, London.

Branches adopt new names

The Wellington and Nelson branches of The Royal Society of New Zealand have adopted new names. Wellington recently changed its name to Science Wellington. The Nelson branch has become the Nelson Science Society. Other branches around the country are also looking at their names and status in relation to the Society under new legislation.

New MORST policy head appointed

The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology has appointed Dr James Buwalda as its new chief policy adviser to replace Mike Doig. Dr Buwalda, previously manager of science strategy with HortResearch, Hamilton, took up his new position in early December. In his position at HortResearch he was responsible for developing strategic and operational plans for the science business of HortResearch. After completing a Bachelor of Agricultural Science with Honours, from Lincoln College, Dr Buwalda became a scientist with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Hamilton in 1979. Dr Buwalda’s career also included three years of research at the University of London, where he completed his PhD, and one year at the University of Bonn, where he was an Alexander von Humboldt fellow.

Fleming Award winner

Dr Brian Molloy has been awarded the 1995 Charles Fleming Award for Environmental Achievement by The Royal Society of New Zealand. The award is in recognition of Dr Molloy’s outstanding contribution to the taxonomy, ecology and conservation status of native conifers and orchids. Dr Molloy, a Research Associate at Landcare Research, Christchurch, has an advisory role in the protection and management of endangered plants and mountain land ecosystems. Dr Molloy will undertake a public lecture tour visiting regional constituents of the Royal Society in 1996.

Two honorary fellows elected

The Royal Society has elected two new Honorary Fellows. This is an honour conferred on individuals, who are not normally resident in New Zealand, for outstanding achievement and distinction in scientific research and advancement of science, and for their association with New Zealand. There are now a total of 33 Honorary Fellows. The newly elected Honorary Fellows are:

Neil W Ashcroft, Horace White Professor of Physics at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, who received both his BSc and MSc (Hons) degrees from the University of New Zealand and his PhD from the University of Cambridge. Professor Ashcroft has made major contributions to several areas of physics: the electronic properties of matter; classical statistical mechanics; and the physics of high pressure. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Physical Society, Professor Ashcroft is the author of over 180 research papers and a university textbook Solid State Physics. He visits New Zealand regularly and was a Visiting Fellow at Industrial Research Ltd earlier this year.

Kevin E Trenberth, Deputy Director of the Climate and Global Dynamics Division of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, received his BSc (Hons) degree at the University of Canterbury prior to undertaking a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr Trenberth has made and continues to make outstanding contributions in the field of meteorology and, in particular, in the fields of climate variability and climate change. His research and other activities show special interest in Southern Hemisphere and Tropical SW Pacific aspects. Dr Trenberth is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is the author of 14 books or book chapters and 83 papers in scientific journals. Dr Trenberth visits New Zealand frequently and maintains communication and collaboration with New Zealand climate and environmental scientists.

Cockayne lecturer

The Royal Society’s 1995 Cockayne Memorial Lecturer will be Dr Ross Ferguson, a research scientist at HortResearch on the Mount Albert Campus in Auckland. Dr Ferguson has been invited to speak on the domestication of kiwifruit and other fruits. He will give his lecture at regional constituents of the Royal Society in 1996.

IAMAS/IAPSO Assemblies

Joint assemblies of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences (IAMAS) and the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Oceans (IAPSO), two of the associations constituting the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG), will be held at the World Congress Centre in Melbourne 1-9 July 1997. Contact, IAMAS/IAPSO Secretariat, Convention Network, 224 Rouse Street, Port Melbourne, Vic 3207; fax 00 61 3 9646 7737; e-mail mscarlett@peg.apc.org

Applied Maths conference

Over 120 participants will converge on Masterton 4-8 February 1996 for the annual Australasian Applied Mathematics Conference to be held at the Solway Park Conference Centre. The conference will encompass all areas of applied mathematics. Further details from the Secretariat e-mail: ANZIAM@massey.ac.nz or the Conference Director, Graeme Wake, University of Auckland tel (09) 373-7599 ext 6826 or fax (09) 373-7001 or e-mail: g.wake@auckland.ac.nz

Travel grants to 14 young scientists

Fourteen university postgraduate scientists have recently been awarded travel grants to overseas conferences under the Young Scientists’ Fund of The Royal Society of New Zealand. 121 young scientists have received funding from the Society to attend their first international scientific conference since the fund was established. Funding has largely gone to postgraduate students nearing completion of their PhDs. Recipients report the awards to be a great stimulus at the beginning of a scientific career. The successful candidates this year (with departments and universities in brackets) are: Christine V Stephens (Psychology, Massey), John D Pritchard (Physics & Astronomy, Canterbury), Robert E Lieffering (Earth Sciences, Waikato), Hailong Wang (Soil Sciences, Massey), Craig J Whittington (Psychology, Massey), Ross Adamson (Chemistry, Massey), Paul T Qualtrough (Computer Sciences, Auckland), Carol A Stewart (Entomology, Lincoln), David W Hawkins (Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Canterbury), Gavin A Manderson (Biochemistry, Massey), Helen S Toogood (Thermophile Research Unit, Waikato), Rachel M Williamson (Chemistry, Massey), Gretel S Roberts (School of Biological Sciences, Auckland).

Science communicators for 1995

Dr John Clearwater of HortResearch, Auckland, and Associate Professor Ross Grimmett of the Department of Chemistry, University of Otago, have won the Science Communicator Awards for 1995 organised by the New Zealand Association of Scientists. Dr Clearwater was the winner of the scientific issues section of the award for his radio and televison programmes about pheromones and codling moths. Associate Professor Grimmett won the principles, achievements and education section through his communication of chemistry by way of lectures for school children and televison programmes.

New DoC research head

The Department of Conservation has appointed John Holloway as its new director of science and research, replacing Richard Sadleir who retired in June. Mr Holloway, of Wellington, was formerly director of the Department’s estate protection division and has 30 years’ experience in conservation-related management. The eminent botanist, Rev. Dr J. E. Holloway of Dunedin, who was President of the Royal Society 1939-41, is John Holloway’s grandfather.

1996 teacher fellowships awarded

Thirteen science/technology teachers have been awarded NZ Science and Technology Teacher Fellowships for 1996 by The Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the Government. At a function to announce the fellowships, the Minister of Research, Science and Technology, Hon. Simon Upton, said he regarded the fellowships as one of the most successful initiatives of his term as Science Minister. This year the scheme will receive an additional $195,000 from Government. The 13 fellows are:

Rex Bartholomew, Viard College, to work with Victoria University and Karori Sanctuary Trust on an integrated ecological database for the Karori Sanctuary.

Graeme Bloomfield, Nayland College, to work with Cawthron Institute on environmental factors affecting juvenile scallop survival.

Brett Clark, Porirua East Primary, to work with a number of companies and organisations to encourage an interactive relationship between education and industry practises.

Peter Fergusson, Whakatane High School, to work with the Department of Conservation on freshwater wetlands in the Te Teko Ecological District.

Jenny Hughes, St Andrews College, Christchurch, to work with the Department of Plant & Microbial Sciences, University of Canterbury, on algae.

Bridget Jones, Parua Bay School, Whangarei, to work with the Department of Mathematics, University of Auckland, on information about technologies which are advantageous in primary mathematics education.

Beryl Lee, Dunedin North Intermediate, to work with Discovery World, Otago Museum.

Mary Mason, Remuera Intermediate, to work with Happy Valley Honey Ltd on beekeeping and the honey industry.

Sue Michelsen-Heath, Otago Girls High, to work with the Zoology Department, University of Otago and NZ Antarctic Division, Christchurch, to satellite track penguin foraging-group movements, carry out DNA studies of Adelie kinship groups and make behavioural observations of penguin groups.

Berys Spratt, Mangaroa School, Upper Hutt, to work with Mel-O-Rich Icecream, The Blood Centre, Dominion Salt and AgResearch Wallaceville, to investigate the science and technology in these industries.

Jeremy Tizard, Hamilton Boys High School, to work with Environment Waikato on environmental education activities in Waikato schools.

Van-Long Truong, Wainuiomata College, to work with the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, Lower Hutt, on nuclear physics in industry and to demonstrate low cost radiation detection equipment suitable for schools.

Gregory Walker, Ellesmere College, Christchurch, to work with South Pacific Information Services Ltd with special focus on the NZ Science Monthly bimonthly Discovery science education page.

23% boost for health research

The Health Research Council is to receive a 23% funding increase, the Government has announced. In 1996/97 the council’s funding will be $25.2 million, topped up by a further $1.62 million in 1997/98 to take its funding to $26.8 million, Health Under-Secretary Bill English said. The council received $19.3 million in 1995/96. He said funding for health research had been under significant pressure for many years despite increases in financial support for both health and science in the past few years. ‘Health research has missed out due to the pressure to spend health money on more immediate needs.’

Zonta award for women scientists

Women scientists are being invited to apply for the 1996 Zonta Science Award. Applications are now open for the biennial award, which was established by the Zonta Club of Wellington to further the status of women in scientific fields. The award recognises women who contribute significantly to New Zealand scientific research and promote science as a career for women. Applications close next March. Winners receive a round-the-world air ticket, a gold and silver medal and $5000 cash.

Marine Science as NSS?

The need for a National Science Strategy in Marine Science is being investigated by the Office of the Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology. An independent report on the appropriateness of Marine Science as a NSS topic will be completed by 1 February 1996.

Visiting Technologists

About 12 applications will be funded in the first round of the Visiting Technologists Scheme introduced by the Government in this year’s Budget to give industry direct access to the latest overseas technology. The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology says that of 23 applications received in the first round in October, the review panel has recommended 12 applications be funded at up to half the total cost of the visit.

Unilever Science Award

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences reports that Unilever, the major international consumer goods manufacturer, has established a new prize to promote science, the Unilever Science Award. Two awards, each worth approximately US$160,000, will be awarded in 1996 to scientists in the field of Biorecognition. One prize will be for outstanding research on cell cycle recognition, the other for outstanding research on odour, flavour and taste perception. Nominations close 1 February 1996. For further information contact the Royal Society.

Professor of race-horse breeding

New Zealander William Allen, a world expert in horse fertility, has been appointed Britain’s first professor of race-horse breeding. Dr Allen, aged 55, who was educated at Auckland Grammar School and Auckland University, is the inaugural professor of equine reproduction at Cambridge University. Dr Allen, who achieved his PhD at the Cambridge Veterinary School, will teach trainee vets techniques to help rear a new generation of champion thoroughbreds.

Standards lab fully funded

The New Zealand Measurement Standards Laboratory, based at Industrial Research Ltd Gracefield, has been relieved of the burden of having to bid contestably to the Public Good Science Fund for funds to maintain New Zealand’s primary standards of physical measurement. The Minister of Research, Science and Technology, Hon. Simon Upton, recently signed an agreement with IRL to fully fund the measurements lab directly through a non-departmental output class. The move acknowledges that though MSL undertakes leading edge research, the Government has a statutory requirement to maintain the standards.

US decline in R&D continues

United States spending on research and development (R&D) is expected to reach US$171 billion by the end of 1995. The total is 1% more than the US$169 billion spent in 1994 but, after adjusting for expected inflation, the 1995 figure represents a 2% decrease in the nation’s R&D investment, according to a National Science Foundation survey. In the early 1980s, R&D spending grew by almost 7% per year after adjusting for inflation, but these increases tapered off substantially in the mid-to-late 1980s before turning negative in the early 1990s. Recession and government budgetary constraints have also inhibited R&D growth in Japan and Germany.

Project to genetically improve pine

A research and development project by Forestry Corporation with the New Zealand Forest Research Institute (NZFRI) aims at genetically improving the quality of radiata pine. The development project will further research and commercialise fascicle cuttings technology for radiata pine forestry. A fascicle cutting is a plant produced from the small buds at the base of each bundle of three mature pine needles or ‘fascicles’. High multiplication rates of individual seedlings can be obtained using this technique, compared to conventional cuttings propagation. The major advantages of these techniques are increased uniformity and predictability of the desired timber characteristics. As each cutting is planted, the quality of the wood yield 25 years later will be known with greater certainty.

S&T medal

A Science and Technology medal has been awarded by the Royal Society to John Watson for contributions he has made to educational research. The award was presented to Mr Watson by the Minister of Education, Hon. Lockwood Smith, at a ceremony to mark the opening of the ECNZ Nature Science Fair in Wellington.

New Delta series for teachers

A new series of resources for teachers called the Delta series has been launched by the Royal Society in collaboration with the Association of Science Educators. The first three units of work on aspirin, physics in context and polymer chemistry are for high school science teachers and are now available from the Society at a cost of $20 each ($15 to NZASE members). Five more units on food technology and other topics are being produced. The Delta series aims to provide units of work for teachers at all school levels. The series will contain up-to-date information and activities for children that fit within the curricula.

BRANZ Alpha Awards to schools

The Building Research Association’s Alpha prizes were presented at a Royal Society function in Wellington recently by the Minister of Science, Research and Technology, Hon. Simon Upton. Cromwell College in Central Otago won the secondary school section of the initial BRANZ Alpha Award for the linking of school science and technology activities with local communities. Among the school’s many science-related activities were the monitoring of various aspects of Lake Dunstan, the newly formed hydro lake behind Clyde Dam, near Cromwell. In the intermediate schools section, Taradale Intermediate, Hawke’s Bay, and Diosesan School for Girls, Auckland, were the joint winners, while Mangaroa School, Upper Hutt, won the primary section. BRANZ are from this year sponsoring a $2000 award for each schooling level.

New British Council head

Paul Smith, the new director of the British Council, has recently arrived in Wellington. The Royal Society appreciates the support to science and technology given by the British Council in the past under Francis King’s direction and looks forward to continuing fruitful contact with his replacement.

Three to receive doctorates

Dr Ian Axford, Dr Harry Evison and Mr Angus Tait will receive honorary doctorates from the University of Canterbury at a graduation ceremony next May. Dr Axford FRS, a Canterbury graduate, who is chairman of the Marsden Fund Committee, and was the 1995 New Zealander of the Year and an Honorary Fellow of The Royal Society of New Zealand, will receive a Doctor of Science. Mr Evison, a Canterbury historian who has written extensively on the history of South Island Māori and Ngai Tahu’s land claim, will be awarded a Doctor of Letters. Mr Tait is chairman and managing director of Tait Electronics, a supporter of the university and a recipient of the 1995 Award of New Zealand in economic and business development, will receive a Doctor of Engineering. Mr Tait was previously awarded the Royal Society’s Thomson Medal in 1989.

AIT seeks status of university

Auckland Institute of Technology (AIT) has lodged an application with Education Minister Lockwood Smith to become a university. AIT hopes the Minister will approve its application by mid-1996. AIT council chairwoman Pauline Kingi says the institute had all the characteristics of a university, and the application was simply seeking recognition of that. ‘We won’t be changing our name, the courses we offer, or the way we operate. We want to still be known as the Auckland Institute of Technology,’ she said. AIT was now offering 23 degree courses which met international standards of teaching, research and learning. By becoming a university, the qualifications granted by AIT would be more easily recognised by both employers and other academic institutions.

Australian innovation package

The Australian Government has announced it will fine tune its 150% tax concession to companies for research and development to increase accessibility and cut off opportunities for abuse. The announcement was part of a four-year $NZ568.24 million innovation strategy aimed at boosting investment and steering Australia down the information superhighway. The strategy involves changes to banking rules to allow greater direct investment in small businesses and programmes to upgrade the financial skills of small business operators to make them more attractive to investors. A programme to encourage international commercial linkages in industry and technology is aimed at building stronger ties between Australian companies and overseas partners. A $NZ4 million Superhighway Ready scheme will show businesses how to use network information services so that they can re-engineer and go global.

Chardonnay in 20 days under new method

A revolution in wine production could be on its way after Australian scientists produced a chardonnay in 20 days that professional wine tasters were unable to distinguish from one matured for four years. Scientists at the Australian Wine Institute in Adelaide have developed the technique known as thermal processing which does away with the need for oak barrels and could cut the cost of wine. Royal Australian Chemical Institute spokesman Dr Graham O’Neill said thermal processing could see the end of one of the oldest traditions in wine-making — maturation in oak casks to allow a wine to develop its full flavour. He said wine needed maturation because after fermentation about 90% of the compounds which held the flavour and aroma were locked away, covered in sugar molecules. Traditional maturation could take up to 15 years to release the compounds. But thermal processing, applying heat of up to 50deg. to the fermented wine and maintaining the temperature for about 20 days, removes the sugar molecules ‘so you’ve got your full-flavoured, full-bodied, full-scented wine ready to drink’. There was no damage to the wine itself. ‘The acid test is that nobody with a fine taste for wine can tell the difference between wine that’s been treated this way and wine treated in the traditional maturation process in oak casks’. Dr O’Neill said the technique should lead to cheaper wine and ‘an absolute revolution in terms of storage’. The innovative discovery was likely to be followed in the rest of the world, even if some in the wine industry considered the development a sacrilege. ‘We shouldn’t under-estimate the power of tradition,’ he said.

Astronomy student wins Bates

A University of Canterbury PhD student in Astronomy, Jovan Skuljan, has been awarded The Royal Society of New Zealand 1996 R H T Bates Postgraduate Scholarship. Mr Skuljan recently immigrated to New Zealand from the University of Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia where he had completed an MSc and also worked at the Belgrade Observatory. His research project ‘A Study of Moving Groups of Stars in Our Galaxy’ involves image processing of CCD images of stellar spectra obtained at the University’s Mt John Observatory. His research is aimed at determining Doppler shifts in stellar spectra from CCD images, which in turn will give information about the space motions of stars in the galaxy. He has been able to reveal some subtle, yet significant, instrumental effects that have not been noted previously by researchers. The Bates scholarship was established by the Royal Society in 1991 in memory of Professor Bates FRSNZ, who held a personal Chair in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Canterbury from 1975 until his death in November 1990.

First in vitro deer fawns produced

Deer fawns have been successfully produced in a in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) process–a world-first in deer reproduction. Dr Debbie Berg of AgResearch said the process which she developed at Ruakura agricultural complex has exciting implications for the New Zealand deer industry. Six test-tube deer were produced last year, and more are expected from this spring’s births next month. Although in-vitro fertilisation is used in other livestock industries such as cattle, it’s the first time the process has been adapted to deer reproduction. New Zealand deer farmers have already expressed in interest in using advanced artificial breeding to improve Canadian wapiti. The development will allow AgResearch to develop other technology such as selecting deer sperm for a particular gender. ‘The next step is refining and developing the process to make it commercially viable,’ Dr Berg said. The IVF process involves sperm and egg retrieval from donor deer, with the eggs for the trials being extracted from deer slaughtered for meat. Embryos are transferred to recipient female deer after seven days. Dr Berg said the process will enable faster incorporation of characteristics of genetically superior animals when they are young. Eggs can be retrieved from females not ready to carry offspring, and fertilised using the in-vitro method, then transferred to recipient does, and eggs can also be retrieved from infertile females which still have good bloodlines. It’s taken four years to produce fawns using IVF techniques, and there are only two laboratories in the world that are carrying out this type of research–the other is in Canada. ‘It was originally thought we could adapt existing in-vitro technology for sheep, cattle and goats to deer, but we quickly found there were several fundamental differences that prevented this,’ Dr Berg said. Dr Berg and her team had to go back to basics, learning more about fundamental deer reproductive functions and embryonic development, before adapting processes specific to red deer.

Greenhouse warming under- estimated?

Greenhouse warming of the atmosphere is likely to be greater than expected in the Southern Hemisphere, according to a CSIRO researcher. Until now, simulations of global climate change have consistently shown warming in the Southern Hemisphere would be a third of the warming experienced by the Northern Hemisphere, CSIRO division of oceanography scientist Trevor McDougall says. Oceans act like a heat bank that absorbs energy and therefore can slow the rate of global warming. He says the new studies showed the capacity of oceans to delay global warming in the Southern Hemisphere was only half that used in previous computer models to predict climate change.

CRIs make $15m profit

Crown research institutes recorded a provisional surplus after tax of $15.7 million in the June 1995 year, a rise of $1.4 million or 9.6% on 1994. During the year, total income rose $13.1 million to $367.3 million, with nearly 40% of the rise due to increased government funding. Expenditure rose 13.2%, with more than half that increase due to a 3.8%, or $7 million, rise in employee costs. At June 1995, CRIs had $95.1 million in debt, down $8.4 million on the preceding year. Total assets stood at $287.7 million, up $7.7 million.

Time capsule control for facial eczema

AgResearch scientists say they have developed a product to help sheep farmers gain control of facial eczema, a disease which costs them up to $60 million a year. What they are calling the Time Capsule for Facial Eczema is a controlled-release, intra-ruminal capsule which provides six weeks protection for lambs and adult sheep with only one application. Traditionally, sheep farmers have been unable to control facial eczema effectively because of the need for regular dosing to maintain protection. Neale Towers, leader of the team which developed the product, said the capsule had been trialled extensively to get the best balance of zinc dosage and duration of protection. The Time Capsule has been developed in conjunction with HortResearch with financial assistance from the Meat Research Development Council.

Black spot resistant gene found

A gene that gives natural resistance to black spot, a major apple disease, has been detected by the apple gene mapping programme at HortResearch. Eight gene tags or ‘fingerprints’ have been detected for the Vf gene which provides natural resistance to the disease.

Dr Sue Gardiner, a scientist working on the gene mapping of apples, says the programme is developing the technology for introducing marker assisted selection as a major tool for apple breeders to use in developing new and better varieties more quickly.

In marker assisted selection, molecular tags close to a specific gene are used to detect the presence or absence of that gene in very young seedlings containing only four to six leaves.

This new technology will help breeders discard inferior seedlings before they are planted out in the research orchard. Dr Gardiner says this technology will play a major role in future development of apple cultivars.

The programme is initially focussing on detecting markers linked to disease and pest resistance genes. This would avoid the use of chemical sprays which are a major cost and labour factor for orchardists. Work is in progress to detect molecular tags for genes with resistance to powdery mildew and woolly apple aphid.

Single gene controls flowering

Plant geneticists at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, have generated plants in which flowering has been dramatically accelerated.

The genetic engineering feat was achieved in diverse plants, including a tiny weed, the small mustard-plant relative Arabidopsis, tobacco and a long-lived tree, the aspen.

The precocious flowering results achieved by scientist Detlef Weigel shows that the activity of a single gene, LEAFY, is sufficient to initiate the formation of flowers. This ability to single-handedly cause a plant to skip entire growth phases and proceed directly to a flowering state identifies LEAFY as a developmental master switch.

The results are reported in the 12 October 1995 issue of the journal Nature. A patent on the gene has been applied for.

The discovery should allow for dramatic shortening of the vegetative phase in any plant amenable to genetic engineering, says Weigel. He reports initial flowering in the aspen tree in a matter of months instead of eight to 20 years in nature.

His success with several unrelated plants suggests that this may well be a universally applicable strategy.

Tree breeding until now has been very limited because the life cycle of a tree has been so long, but this time could now be collapsed. Breeding in crop plants could also be simplified since successful breeding normally requires a series of crosses over six generations or more.

The elegance of the method lies in the fact that the early flowering is conditioned by a single known gene, rather than by the combination of several unknown genes.

After the desired breeding effects have been achieved, the single gene can be removed to return improved plants to their normal flowering habits. – from NSF News.

Prince and Princess of Wales Awards

Six people have been awarded Prince and Princess of Wales Science Awards. They are:

Professor David Buckingham FRS, Chemistry Department, Cambridge University, who is to collaborate with Professor Leon Phillips FRSNZ, Chemistry Department, University of Canterbury, to investigate the dispersive potentials between small molecules.

Simon P Davies, Research Officer, Crop & Food Research, Nelson, who is to visit the Oregon State University Seafood Laboratory and collaborate with its director to study and assess potential for the application of ultra-high pressure ABB Autoclave System hydrostatic press in the New Zealand seafood industry.

Dr J A P Heesterbeek, Agricultural Mathematics Group, Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries, The Netherlands, who is to visit AgResearch, Wallaceville, to work on the control of nematode infections in sheep.

Dr R B Stewart, Senior Lecturer in Soil Science, Massey University, who is to carry out oxygen isotope analyses of mineral separates and whole rocks from New Zealand volcanoes at Oregon State University.

Dr Glyn Francis, Soil Scientist, Crop and Food Research, Christchurch, to undertake a collaborative project at Rothamsted Experimental Station, United Kingdom, on the modelling of nitrate leaching losses from New Zealand mixed cropping farming systems. Dr Francis has been allocated the award under the NZ/UK Agreement on Science and Technology with The Royal Society, London.

Dick J Poll, Senior Technical Officer, Chemistry Department, Massey University, to work in Hobart with Professor Paul Haddad, a world expert in the field of ion chromatography.

R&D brings success for manufacturer

A small Christchurch electronics firm, Commtest Instruments, is having success with its new hand-held, electronic data logger for measuring wear on electric motors. The company’s portable motor measuring system is in demand from major European, American and Asian railway companies.

The device gauges when maintenance is needed on electric motors and measures and records the surface condition of commutators and slip-rings on rotating electric machines, including the generators and motors used on electric locomotives.

The system, called the MMS1000, allows technicians working trackside to decide whether an electric locomotive needs workshop maintenance or whether it can continue to be used, saving on maintenance costs.

A company director, Alex Topschij, said some of the large railway workshops in the United States used a dozen of the loggers, which come in a kit that includes a portable printer and motor analysis software also developed by the company.

Mr Topschij said research and development costs were high because technology was moving quickly.

Each logger is worth about $7000 and sales of the logger, which has been on the market since May, are expected to reach $1 million by the end of the year, and double that next.

Mr Topschij predicts most of that money will go into research and development.

Christchurch Polytechnic’s electro-technology department initially helped with development. Commtest also received a research and development grant of $117,000 from the Technology for Business Growth programme run by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Eels head to South Pacific to spawn, die

A mystery about where New Zealand freshwater eels go to spawn and die appears to have been solved. Victoria University of Wellington zoologist Peter Castle believes he has now collected enough evidence to pin-point the spawning ground to an ocean area near Western Samoa.

As the eels reach maturity they leave New Zealand rivers and swim out to sea to spawn like the freshwater eels of Europe, United States and Japan.

Until Dr Castle went looking for New Zealand eel larvae in the western Pacific on a Japanese research ship four months ago, no-one knew for sure where the spawning area was.

‘I think we’ve got the location of the spawning grounds for the South Pacific species fairly well pinned down,’ Dr Castle said. But he was not 100% certain.

Its latitude lay between 10 and 15 degrees south of the Equator between Western Samoa and Fiji — an area of relatively low ocean salinity. ‘This water may be the trigger to spawning that mature adults need.’

Near Samoa the scientists caught tiny eels of about two weeks old, but they were extremely hard to identify, and he was awaiting further DNA tests from Japan.

Dr Castle believes ocean currents carry the young eels on their journey home, which takes about a year.

Once the larvae reach New Zealand, they transform to ‘glass eels’ — transparent juveniles — then enter fresh water where they become ‘elvers’.

They spend the rest of their lives in fresh water, until they return to the ocean to spawn back at their birthplace. The average age at migration ranges from 14 to 34 years.

There are two species of freshwater eel in New Zealand — the short-finned eel and the long-finned eel.

New wool technologies developed

The Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand (WRONZ) had an excellent year with three new fibre technologies commercialised, and with research and development turnover breaking the $10 million, managing director Garth Carnaby said at the organisation’s annual meeting.

Despite the wool industry’s economic crisis the sector had decided to take a gamble and invest in WRONZ for its future. Three years ago, when turnover was $6.3m, WRONZ set itself a new turnover target of $15m by 1997/98. ‘We reckoned we needed a technology creation engine of that scale to really stimulate the New Zealand wool industry’, Dr Carnaby said.

Three technologies were commercialised during the year, Lanastat, Linclite, and ‘de-lustring.”

Lanastat is an electrically conductive wool, which, when incorporated in an ordinary wool yarn, will prevent the build-up of static in carpets. Lanastat fibres are made of pure wool and have the potential to turn 1kg of ordinary wool into $112 of specialty fibre, Dr Carnaby said. Demand for the fibre has greatly exceeded expectations. So much so, that WRONZ has had to build a new Lanastat fibre production unit in a crash programme for our commercial partner, Woolfill Corporation.

‘Delustred wool’ enables scourers to control the level of lustre on the wool, improve spinning performance and appearance of carpets made from it.

Linclite is being used as a new method of adding bulk and warmth without weight to knitting yarns. It was an important breakthrough, as lack of bulk has long been identified as a weak point for New Zealand wools.

Otago forms new School of Medical Sciences

The University of Otago has established a new School of Medical Sciences at Dunedin separate from the three clinical Schools of Medicine at Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington.

Professor David Jones has been appointed dean of the new school. He is currently head of the university’s Department of Microbiology.

The new school will be made up of the five departments: anatomy and structural biology, biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology and physiology. The five departments were established initially to provide basic preclinical training in the biomedical sciences for medical students.

However over the years, as the university has developed, the role of the departments has been greatly expanded to provide fundamental training in biomedical sciences for all students undertaking professional degrees in the health sciences. These include dentistry, medicine, medical laboratory science, pharmacy and physiotherapy.

The five departments in the new school have come to play an ever-expanding role in the provision of education and training to a wide range of science disciplines encompassing virtually all aspects of molecular and cellular biology.

The university says that the new school will be the most significant concentration of top-rated research scientists working in the basic biomedical science area in New Zealand. It will contain a large number of talented research scientists with international reputations.

The university says the school provides the opportunity to bring these various groups together to provide a focus of research excellence.

The four schools come under the Faculty of Medicine.

Mantle conduit found under South America

In a challenge to a major aspect of the theory of plate tectonics, US scientists have discovered the presence of an ancient conduit deep in the Earth’s mantle beneath Brazil.

The conduit appears to have remained geographically fixed with respect to the overlying continent despite thousands of kilometres of South American plate motion, geophysicists John VanDecar and David James of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C report in the 2 November issue of Nature.

This observation runs contrary to a major tenet of plate tectonic theory — that the motion of lithospheric plates is essentially independent of flow in the upper mantle beneath the plates — and implies that the upper mantle and the overlying South American continent have remained coupled since the break-up of the Gondwanaland supercontinent and opening of the South Atlantic Ocean some 120 million years ago.

This result also implies that large-scale convection in the mantle may be responsible for the motion of the great continental plates such as South America, where the driving force for plate motion has not been well understood.

Data for their analysis were collected from an array of state-of-the-art portable seismograph systems deployed across south-eastern Brazil.

Royal Society elects 16 new Fellows to Academy

Outstanding scientific research achievements by scientists and technologists in many fields have been recognised with the recent election of 16 new fellows to the Royal Society’s Academy.

Professor Philippa Black, President of the Royal Society’s Academy, said the new fellows represented a continued broadening of the Academy’s discipline base. Eight of the fellows are from the applied and social sciences and eight from the traditional sciences. The expanded Fellowship now numbers 216.

Election to the Fellowship is an honour conferred on individuals for outstanding achievement and distinction in scientific research and the advancement of science.The fellows were elected at the Fellows’ Annual Meeting in Dunedin. The new Fellows are:

ROBERT BEAGLEHOLE: Professor and Head of the Department of Community Health, School of Medicine, University of Auckland, Robert Beaglehole is a distinguished cardiovascular epidemiologist who has made an outstanding contribution in New Zealand and on the international scene. Much of his research has been carried out in New Zealand and has helped to explain the aetiology of coronary heart disease in New Zealand and the changing trends in risk factors and disease rates. He was one of a small group of cardiovascular epidemiologists who appreciated that mortality rates could not fully explain changes in disease rates which were occurring throughout the world. He is regarded as a pioneer of one of the largest and most ambitious epidemiological studies in cardiovascular disease ever attempted: the WHO Multinational Monitoring of Trends and Determinants in Cardiovascular Disease. He has also undertaken studies which have helped to explain hypertension and cardiovascular disease evolution in the Maori and people of Pacific Island descent.

ANDREW C CLELAND: Professor of Food Engineering, Massey University, Palmerston North, Andrew Cleland has revitalised many aspects of refrigeration-related research in New Zealand. His research has centred around the theme of ‘development of mathematical methodology for engineering predictions related to food refrigeration processes’. A systematic mathematical modelling approach linking the disciplines of food technology and mechanical engineering has considerable benefits for design and efficient operation of refrigeration systems. Specific areas of Professor Cleland’s research are: prediction of freezing and thawing times for foods and other biological materials; energy use in food processing; simulation of the performance of industrial refrigeration systems; water vapour transport in refrigeration facilities; chilling of horticultural produce; modelling of modified atmosphere storage of apples; CFC substitution in refrigeration systems. Professor Cleland has sought to make his research available to others in a user-friendly form. Technology transfer has taken the form of short courses for industry and have run regularly since 1980. He has also developed software for industrial refrigeration system users. Professor Cleland has recently been awarded the Kamerlingh Onnes Medal by the Dutch Association of Refrigeration at the 19th International Congress of Refrigeration in The Hague.

LAWRENCE K CREAMER: Research Scientist, New Zealand Dairy Research Institute, Palmerston North, Lawrence Creamer’s distinguished contributions within the general area of milk protein chemistry have covered a broad range. These have been both in the quality of the scholarship shown in his research and in the way in which he has used basic research findings for the solution of practical problems. The major areas in which he has contributed are casein micelle structure; improved manufacture of casein-type products; reactions involved in maturation of cheese; the milk payment system; effects of heat on milk proteins; and the relationship between the structure of milk proteins and their function in various applications. Dr Creamer is the first person from outside North America to have served on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Dairy Science, the leading North American journal in the field.

S HARVEY FRANKLIN: Professor Emeritus, Victoria University of Wellington, Harvey Franklin has always been an innovator in the Social and Geographical Sciences. For many years he has had an intense interest in the social and economic organisation of rural Europe. His book The European Peasantry, published in 1969, is one of the essential titles on this theme and continues to be a standard source on European rural economies. His scholarship on New Zealand demography and New Zealand social and economic development is regarded as a benchmark in the geographical literature, for example pin-pointing the problem of commodity specialisation long before the so-called ‘Porter Report’ was ever heard of and highlighting the problems of growing welfare expenditure well before the 1984 restructuring phase was commenced. He is regarded as one of the first scholars to make economics and social geography a well respected discipline in New Zealand.

JOHN F HARPER: Professor of Applied Mathematics, Victoria University of Wellington, John Harper’s research has been in two quite distinct fields: hydrodynamics and plate tectonics. One of his achievements has been to show that the mathematical ideas and methods used in hydrodynamics can illuminate problems of major importance in plate tectonics. His initial reputation was established in the fluid dynamics community for a series of authoritative papers on the effects of surfactants on the motion of gas bubbles in liquids, a topic of importance in chemical engineering. In this work he has demonstrated a mastery of the interplay between the mechanics of fluids and the surface chemistry involved in bubble motion in contaminated fluids. In the early 1970s John Harper became interested in the then relatively new theory of plate tectonics. His papers on this subject have addressed such issues as the subduction of plates through downward pull and outward-push from mid-ocean ridges; the reasons why Australia began spreading rapidly northward 55 million years ago; viscosity of the mantle; and the effect of the addition of the Caribbean plate on the global force balance. In subsequent years he has adapted and developed his models and theories in response to the growth of observed evidence about the behaviour of plates.

A JOHN MCKINNON: Currently General Manager, Corporate Development, Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand (Inc), Christchurch, John McKinnon is an internationally respected wool chemist. His expertise spans the entire spectrum from the intricacies of protein chemistry, through the physical chemistry of wool textile processes, to large, industrial scale machinery development and commercialisation. Dr McKinnon is perhaps most well known for leading the team which developed and commercialised the ChemsetTM process for stabilising the twist in wool carpet yarns. The package to package process for yarns is derived from earlier studies of the chemistry of the setting process. The design parameters were based around a detailed scientific understanding of the chemical reactivity of the disulphide bond in wool fibres and its reformation. More recently he has assumed the leadership role in WRONZ’s wool scouring research and has made personal contributions in numerous aspects of the physical chemistry of the scouring process which affect the quality of the scoured product. Another major theme in Dr McKinnon’s applied research has been his pioneering work in optimising the industrial processes used to produce saxony carpet, the major style of tufted carpet using New Zealand wool.

DR K L (JOCK) MACMILLAN: Current Senior Principal Scientist, Dairying Research Corporation, Hamilton, Jock Macmillan is among the world leaders working in the area of bovine reproductive physiology. His research is recognised as making significant contributions to new knowledge about reproductive physiology in cattle in general, and dairy cows in particular, as well as research initiating new or original concepts in the breeding management of dairy cattle in herds in New Zealand and elsewhere throughout the world. Many aspects of dairy cattle fertility have been investigated by Dr Macmillan. His most widely recognised contributions have been in oestrous cycle regulation and control. These contributions have combined fundamental intensive studies with large scale field trials of varying complexity. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the international journal Animal Reproduction Science. He is also well known to herd owners throughout dairy industries in New Zealand as well as Australia, Ireland and South America because of his publications in farming journals and presentations to producers’ conferences.

JOHN OGDEN: Associate Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, John Ogden is a leader of forest ecologists working in New Zealand. He is also known internationally as one of the leading figures in forest dynamics. Dr Ogden has brought modern techniques and fresh insights to the fields of forest dynamics and dendrochronology of southern temperate forests. He is one of the few forest ecologists to bring both retrospective techniques (e.g. dendrochronology) and modelling techniques to bear on the same ecological problem. Dr Ogden’s most significant contributions to the study of forest ecology in New Zealand include the dynamics of kauri forests, the demography of beech seedlings, and stand-level dieback in beech forests. Much of this research has led the way for conceptually and methodologically similar research in many other parts of the world. He has also made important contributions in fields as diverse as taxonomy, conservation and ornithology.

BRYAN P PHILPOTT: Emeritus Professor and Director, Research Project on Economic Planning, Victoria University of Wellington, Bryan Philpott’s initial base research was on the economics of agricultural production and marketing and in particular the application to these areas of the new emerging mathematical research tools of Econometrics and Operations Research. He then began work on the application of these new research methodologies to the development of economy-wide computable models to investigate the optional role of agriculture and of other sectors in the future structure of the economy. The establishment of the Victoria University Research Project on Economic Planning enabled him to continue and greatly expand the scope, complexity and diversity of his initial work on economy-wide and computable general equilibrium (CGE) models. Today’s CGE models consist of a suite of six different versions and have provided a major tool for structural policy analysis, for shedding light on a vast number of applied economic questions, and for better understanding how the economy works. The pioneering work of Professor Philpott in the field of CGE modelling is now widely recognised internationally.

ANNE B SMITH: Professor and Director, Children’s Issues Centre, University of Otago, Anne Smith is well known internationally for her research on early child development and childhood education. Within New Zealand she is extensively involved in issues relating to early childhood education and has served on many national advisory committees. She is part of a small group of international scholars investigating the long-term effects of child care on children’s development, including how different kinds of care shape the social and intellectual lives of children. An important aspect of Professor Smith’s career is consistent and successful efforts to communicate research findings to lay audiences, especially policy makers. She has published widely in scholarly journals and her contributions are valued in international examination of early education topics.

PETER J STEEL: Associate Professor of Chemistry, University of Canterbury, Peter Steel has established himself as an independent researcher in the field of transition metal chemistry with particular emphasis on metal complexes containing novel binucleating heterocyclic ligands. This research has involved the design of new ligands, synthesis of these, preparation of their transition metal complexes and study of the chemistry of the latter. A distinctive feature of the work has been his use of a wide range of modern physical techniques, including X-ray crystallography, high field NMR spectroscopy, and electrochemistry to define structures and to understand the behaviour of the compounds under investigation. He was awarded The Royal Society of Chemistry Easterfield Medal in 1985, The NZ Association of Scientists Research Medal in 1993, and the SGS Prize for Excellence in Research in 1994.

PATRICK A SULLIVAN: Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Otago, Patrick Sullivan’s research career has been characterised by innovation and an ability to take up new opportunities and new techniques while still maintaining strength in the core biological disciplines. His many papers covering the basic biology, metabolism and physiology of Candida albicans led to his analysis of dimorphism and cell wall biosynthesis. This work, especially relating to wall polymer structure, its synthesis and inhibition by antifungal agents, is considered classic research but has also been the foundation for his and other’s continuing research in the field. More recently Professor Sullivan has turned his research to C. albicans pathogenesis and antifungal therapy. He was awarded the New Zealand Biochemical and Molecular Biology Society Watson Victor Prize in 1993.

KEVIN R TATE: Programme Leader, Biosphere Processes, Landcare Research, Palmerston North, Kevin Tate’s research contributions span across soil-plant-atmosphere interactions and range in scale from the molecular to the national levels. He has achieved national and international recognition for his contribution to knowledge on the important role soil organic matter plays in making nutrients available to plants and the structural stability of soils. Dr Tate has used the unique New Zealand climate transects, toposequences and chronosequences to investigate organic matter turnover. He has also recently contributed to the debate on the effects of afforestation in mitigating the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The award of Norman Taylor Memorial Lecturer for 1988 was in recognition of his contribution to New Zealand soil science.

H ROBIN TERVIT: Leader, Reproductive Technologies Group, AgResearch, Ruakura Agricultural Centre, Hamilton, Robin Tervit’s research career has centred mainly around aspects of female reproduction, including synchronisation and control of oestrus, superovulation and embryo transfer, deep-freezing and cryopreservation of embryos, as well as continued in vitro manipulation of embryos. Dr Tervit is also a skilled surgeon and was a pioneer in much of the multiple ovulation and embryo transfer work in New Zealand. He is still undertaking a pivotal role in research and application of embryo manipulation to the New Zealand farming industry. One of his main contributions to New Zealand’s agricultural industry was his involvement in the introduction of exotic sheep embryos into the country and the subsequent rapid multiplication of their numbers, prior to release to the industry.

DAVID C THORNS: Professor of Sociology, University of Canterbury, David Thorns has been involved in major areas of research–housing research; social inequality and comparative urban research–which have contributed to the development of his discipline. He is responsible for the continuous advancement of knowledge concerning urbanisation and suburbanisation. He has provided empirical documentation of crucial processes within social structures which explain trends in urban settlement and which give guidelines to policymakers and planners. His early work dealt with various underlying bases for the community and how they are represented in suburban settlements. He later broadened the scope of his research to the land-use creation process in major cities and to the interface of sociological and economic factors in urban development.

PETER J WILSON: Professor of Anthropology, University of Otago, Dunedin, Peter Wilson is an outstanding New Zealand social anthropologist. He is also recognised overseas as a scholar of world class both for his ethnographic contributions in the West Indies, Malaysia and the Malagasy Republic and also for two distinguished books Man, The Promising Primate and The Domestication of the Human Species, which have attracted attention well beyond the field of anthropology–in social philosophy, psychology, evolutionary biology and primatology. Professor Wilson’s ideas about evolution and meaning of domesticity represent a new and challenging approach to the oldest of anthropological questions.

Royal Society announces three prestigious awards

Three prestigious national awards for scientists of international eminence were recently announced by the Royal Society. The three awards go to:

ROBERT D JOLLY, Professor in Veterinary Pathology and Public Health at Massey University, Palmerston North, has been awarded the Hector Memorial Medal.

This award is made each year to the investigator working in New Zealand who has done most to advance a particular branch of science.

The award, given in annual rotation to different areas of science, was made in 1995 for animal sciences research. Bob Jolly received the Hector medal for his contribution to the understanding of lysosomal storage diseases in animals and humans.

Professor Jolly’s major research efforts have concentrated on inherited diseases of animals, both for their veterinary importance and as models of human disease. Early in his career Professor Jolly’s research resulted in implementation of a disease control programme based on testing 100,000 pedigree cattle, the nucleus of the national beef herd. This was the first time a major genetic disease was controlled. It is estimated that $15 million worth of cattle were saved by the control programme.

Professor Jolly’s later research concentrated on the ceroid-lipofuscinoses inherited diseases of humans and animals using a sheep model. Variants of the disease in children and animals cause blindness, dementia and early death. The findings from this research have now been extended to the disease in cattle, three forms in dogs and in humans.

The Hector medal is awarded in other years for work in plant sciences, chemical sciences, human sciences, solid earth sciences, physical, mathematical and engineering sciences, and animal sciences.

GEOFFREY T S BAYLIS, Emeritus Professor in Botany at the University of Otago, has been awarded the Hutton Memorial Medal, given once every three years to recognise scientific research of great merit which has a distinct bearing on New Zealand zoology, botany or geology.

Geoff Baylis is one of the earliest pioneers in a significant area of plant science, the biological role of mycorrhizae.

Professor Baylis’s first paper (1959) concluded that plant growth was enhanced by arbuscular mycorrhizae (or AM)– an association of roots with fungi in apparent symbiosis that occurs in 80% of plant species worldwide. The paper placed beyond reasonable doubt some earlier conclusions that AM enhanced plant growth. He also provided the explanation: plants with AM took up more phosphorus. Because phosphorus limits growth in nearly all natural and much agricultural soil, this was a discovery of prime importance. The extensive literature on AM that now exists (currently more than 400 papers a year) stems from Professor Baylis’s paper.

DR CHRISTOPHER E WILLIAMS, Research Centre for Developmental Medicine and Biology, University of Auckland Medical School, has been awarded the Hamilton Memorial Prize, given annually to encourage researchers at the beginning of their scientific careers. The prize rewards work published over the previous seven years, including the recipient’s first substantive research publication.

Dr Williams, a Senior Research Fellow who heads a large neuroscience research team at the university, has rewritten our understanding of how brain injuries evolve. He receives the award for his experimental model to study perinatal asphyxial encephalopathy.

Dr Williams’s original and subsequent studies have enabled considerable progress to be made towards understanding asphyxial brain injuries and ultimately reducing the incidence of brain damage in babies. His initial thrust into investigating the evolution of brain injuries was made independently while he was a PhD student. Consequently he has demonstrated novel insights that have generated further papers and now heads a large multidisciplinary team focussing on brain injury research. To date the original observations made and many of the associated hypotheses still stand.

The original and subsequent studies have generated major scientific insights into the processes and factors that regulate cell survival and death in the brain during and after injury. The work has immense potential for helping reduce the incidence of brain damage both in babies and adults.