Connections masthead

STEM education and early career opportunities in independent research ▼
IRANZ news briefs ▼
Lincoln Agritech to create wool-based PPE masks ▼
BRI: Wine research boosts NZ economy $64.5M ▼
Malaghan team identifies crucial molecule in brain cancer cell survival ▼
Malaghan vaccine used in development of novel malaria treatment ▼
Cawthron studies link between heavy rainfall & norovirus contamination ▼
MRINZ: Science and the Cannabis Referendum ▼
MRINZ examines how comics support public health during COVID-19 ▼
Aqualinc: Impact of dairy farming on water quantity and quality ▼
Lincoln Agritech: Soil microorganisms part of spray-free future ▼
BRI: Pinot noir and experts’ perceptions ▼
NZIMMR metallurgists hope to crack the tungsten code ▼
NZIMMR’s search for REEs is extending to mineral sands ▼
Motu: Where do bright young things settle? ▼
BRANZ: The systematic quest for knowledge ▼
BRANZ’s collaborative science ▼
Verum Group studies kiwi calls ▼
HERA: NZ weathering steel guide for bridges ▼
BRI transforming grape waste to hand sanitiser ▼
Multimedia: Podcasts, audio, video, and more from our members ▼
Follow us on social media ▼

STEM education and early career opportunities in independent research

This year’s IRANZ AGM in June saw presentations by both the Pūhoro Stem Academy and the Innovative Young Minds (IYM) programme. Several Independent Research Organisations are involved, or planning to get involved, in both programmes. In addition, new academic scholarships have been added to the independent research portfolio to encourage young people into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers in New Zealand.


Student studying at Bragato
Among other initiatives, the Bragato Research Institute is offering a scholarship for a Māori student studying a tertiary qualification in a science-related field with relevance to the wine industry. Image: BRI.
IRANZ news briefs
  • Malaghan in the News: COVID-19 coverage
  • IRANZ welcomes Land and Water Science
  • IRANZ at Speakers Science Forums
  • Cawthron scientists to inspect foreign vessels
  • HERA News
  • PlantTech's new Principal Scientist sees opportunities to transform horticulture
  • BRI: Wine research and education come together
  • LASRA conference bigger and brighter in 2021
  • Malaghan news
  • MRINZ asthma research published
  • Prime Minister launches Ara Ake - the National New Energy Development Centre
  • Xerra Gateway pilot trial concludes

Follow the link for more details on the July 2020 news briefs from our Independent Research Organisations.


Lincoln Agritech to create wool-based PPE masks

Lincoln Agritech's New Materials Team has been allocated $290,000 from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment COVID-19 Innovation Acceleration Fund (CIAF) to create biodegradable wool-based PPE masks for the COVID-19 pandemic response.

The 18-month research programme is using patented technology from the Wool Research Organisation (WRONZ) to change the physical format of the fibre and improve the absorption and virus-neutralising properties of wool, making the masks both highly effective and environmentally sustainable.

The resulting products will reduce dependence on overseas producers, particularly during high-demand pandemic events, as well as reducing the environmental impact of PPE use.


New Zealand wool-based PPE masks will utilise the absorption and virus-neutralising properties of our wool, making the masks both highly effective and environmentally sustainable. Image: Louise Thomas.
fermentation tanks
State-of-the-art fermentation tanks at the Bragato Research Institute winery. Image: BRI.
BRI: Wine research boosts NZ economy $64.5M

Bragato Research Institute (BRI) commissioned New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) to estimate the impact of research and development in the wine sector, and the impact of BRI activities on the Marlborough region, the national winegrowing industry and the wider economy. The findings of the report illustrate the new benefits added since the inception of BRI, as well as benefits of historic research and development in the wine sector.

Using past studies, NZIER concluded that wine research led to increases of 20% to 25%, with a $64.5m boost to the national economy driven by higher productivity.

Opened in February 2020, the BRI research winery enables research winemaking at a scale and degree of experimental control not possible before in New Zealand. Findings from the NZIER report estimate BRI’s contribution to the national economy is approximately $8 million per annum, including the economic benefits from 30 new jobs created for the New Zealand economy. As part of that $8 million, the creation of BRI has boosted Marlborough’s economy by $2.2 million.


Malaghan team identifies crucial molecule in brain cancer cell survival

A team at the Malaghan Institute has made a significant finding investigating why glioblastoma cells are resistant to treatment – one that could lead to new treatment options for patients suffering from this aggressive brain cancer.

Glioblastoma patients have poor survival rates, partly due to the cancer’s unique ability to ‘bounce back’ from treatment. Malaghan Institute Research Associate Dr Melanie McConnell and her team believe this survivability may come down to a single molecule – BCL6.

A paper resulting from the research ‘The oncogene BCL6 is up-regulated in glioblastoma in response to DNA damage, and drives survival after therapy,’ was recently published in PLOS ONE. The paper was also named paper of the week, ahead of around 600 papers across all fields of science the international journal covers.


Glioblastoma cells
Glioblastoma cells under the microscope. Image: Malaghan Institute of Medical Research.
Malaria is caused by the plasmodium parasite that resides in the saliva glands of mosquitos, the parasite is transferred to humans when the mosquito feeds.
Malaghan vaccine used in development of novel malaria treatment

How the immune system could be used to target the malaria-causing parasite plasmodium is part of a trans-Tasman project which has recently received nearly $1.2m funding from the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

Malaria is a global health issue that kills nearly half a million people each year according to the World Health Organization, with no effective long-term vaccines.

Alongside the Ferrier Research Institute, the University of Melbourne and Avalia Immunotherapies, the Malaghan Institute for Medical Research has been working over the past three years to develop a simple vaccine design that could be manufactured efficiently and administered easily in at-risk countries.


Cawthron studies link between heavy rainfall & norovirus contamination

Nelson’s Cawthron Institute will co-lead an international team of researchers working to find better ways of detecting norovirus in wastewater and understanding the link between heavy rainfall events and norovirus contamination in coastal waters.

Cawthron scientists will partner with colleagues at ESR and Japanese researchers at the University of Tokyo and the Prefectural University of Toyama. Together, they will test water for norovirus at coastal sites in New Zealand’s Tasman Bay and Japan’s Tokyo Bay after heavy rainfall, when sewer overflows can contaminate the receiving water with norovirus.


waste water drain
It is estimated that up to 200,000 New Zealanders get sick every year after contracting norovirus. Image: Cawthron Institute.
MRINZ: Science and the Cannabis Referendum

Many people have preconceptions and established beliefs about whether cannabis is good or bad, harmless or risky. The topic is complex and multifaceted. There may be implications of legalisation you haven’t yet considered.

The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor Dr Juliet Gerard put together an expert panel to summarise and critique the evidence to help people make up their mind on how to vote in the coming referendum. The research covers a broad range of areas impacted by cannabis, including health and social impacts.

A video overview features leading scientists giving a diverse perspective on the state of the research. Amongst the scientists are Dr Irene Braithwaite (MRINZ Deputy Director), and two MRINZ Medicinal Cannabis Programme collaborators, Professor Giles Newton-Howes and Professor Joseph Boden.


Dr Irene Braithwaite
A video by Shirley Horrocks commissioned by the Chief Science Adviser features MRINZ Deputy Director Dr Irene Braithwaite.
MRINZ examines how comics support public health in the COVID-19 pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, evolving containment measures have created an unprecedented need for rapid and effective science communication that is able to engage the public in behavioural change on a mass scale. Public health bodies, governments, and media outlets have turned to comics in this time of need and found a natural and capable medium for responding to the challenge.

Biomedical illustrator and Senior Research Fellow Dr Ciléin Kearns and Senior Research Fellow Dr Nethmi Kearns, both from MRINZ, have recently published a paper in the Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine exploring the emerging role and research supporting comics as a public health tool during the COVID-19 pandemic.


COVID comic
Comics have been used as a vehicle to present science in graphic narratives, harnessing the power of visuals, text, and storytelling in an engaging format. Image: Dr Ciléin Kearns, MRINZ.
Aqualinc: Impact of dairy farming on water quantity and quality

Different farm systems that are in use internationally put varying degrees of pressure on water resources and the quality of receiving waters.

A team of researchers from Aqualinc, along with collaborators from Nepal and the Netherlands, have recently published a paper “Impacts of dairy farming systems on water quantity and quality in Brazil, Ethiopia, Nepal, New Zealand and the USA” in the Journal of Irrigation and Drainage.

Their research examined the performance of dairy farming systems in Brazil, Ethiopia, Nepal, New Zealand, and the USA, based on existing databases of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and country‐specific data sources.

The research finds that some systems have clearly better environmental performance than others when it comes to water quantity and quality issues.


Aqualinc research team
Aqualinc's research team, from left, Dr Birendra KC, Dr Ian McIndoe, Dr Andrew Dark, and Dr Helen Rutter. Image: Aqualinc.
Lincoln Agritech: Soil microorganisms part of spray-free future

“Spray-free” is an often cited aspiration as New Zealand begins to adopt regenerative agricultural practices. An important part of the spray-free strategy is to substitute traditional chemicals with bioinoculants – soil microorganisms that promote plant health often by forming a symbiotic relationship that benefits both plant and microorganism. Particularly important in the bioinoculant market are Trichoderma fungi.

Lincoln Agritech scientists are undertaking research, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), to better understand the relationship between plant health, Trichoderma, and bacteria that are found inside the fungi.


Soil microorganisms part of spray-free future
Scientists at Lincoln Agritech are studying Trichoderma - a fungi which lives in symbiosis with plant roots, where they can increase nitrogen-use efficiency and solubilise phosphate, as well as protecting the plant from root diseases. Image: Lincoln Agritech.
red wine making
Quality and complexity were positively associated concepts in pinot noir wines, while varietal typicality was virtually synonymous with perceived quality. Image: BRI.
BRI: Pinot noir and experts’ perceptions

Pinot noir produces one of the world’s fine wines, with price tags among the highest in the world for a bottle. As a fine wine, the concepts of quality, complexity, and varietal typicality (i.e., a wine being perceived as true to the grape variety) often rear their heads in wine critics’ reviews of pinot noir wines.

A new study, managed by Bragato Research Institute (BRI) and led by Dr Wendy Parr of Lincoln University, examining 18 New Zealand pinot noir wines suggested the colour of the wine wasn’t a major driver of perceived quality among the experts. The research considered how wine professionals conceptualise quality in New Zealand pinot noir wines, and how quality is associated with the important (but somewhat elusive) attributes of complexity and varietal typicality.

This is the first peer-reviewed study to be published from the New Zealand wine industry’s multi-year pinot noir programme, the findings from the international research team will be published in the November 2020 issue of Food Research International.


NZIMMR metallurgists hope to crack the tungsten code

At the Macraes opencast gold mine in East Otago, NZIMMR’s metallurgists are hoping to solve the riddle of how to economically recover tungsten ore from its scheelite host left in tailings after the gold has been removed.

Metallurgist Kirsty Hollis is leading the NZIMMR project, supported by minerals processing engineer Thomas Trott. The team are working with left-overs from gold mining and ore processing that have been accumulating at a storage facility at OceanaGold’s Macraes mine since large-scale production began in 1990. The size of the prize is considerable – an estimated 185 million tonnes of tailings, containing 37,000 tonnes of tungsten, expressed as the trioxide, having an in-ground value exceeding $500 million.


NZIMMR scientists are hoping to crack the code on extracting tungsten ore from its scheelite host. Image: NZIMMR.
black sand
Mineral-rich, black sands. Image: Adrien Olichon, Unsplash.
NZIMMR’s search for REEs is extending to mineral sands

The West Coast’s mineral-rich, black sands are yielding encouraging levels of enrichment in rare earth elements, including minerals not normally associated with them, such as epidote, ilmenite, and zircon. NZIMMR’s search for REEs is extending to mineral sands, and elsewhere in New Zealand.

Neodymium, dysprosium, and lanthanum are also among the high-value REEs found in West Coast mineral sand deposits, starting a conversation on how to make their recovery economic. NZIMMR is increasing the visibility of these green-tech metals, to spark renewed interest in them. For its part, the Government wants to encourage an REE-based industry in New Zealand. Issues to explore include finding where they occur in potentially economic quantities, and how to reduce the cost and environmental impacts of separating them from other minerals to produce concentrates.


Motu: Where do bright young things settle?

A highly-educated population is one of the key drivers of local growth and prosperity. One of the main challenges facing non-metropolitan regions is the attraction and retention of tertiary educated graduates.

Local decision-makers wish to attract and retain young qualified people, but what are the specific drivers that encourage graduates to settle in a particular place? What are the chances of students returning upon graduation? Is there potential to attract other graduates?

New research by Building Better researchers from Motu Economic and Public Policy Research has analysed the locations of choice of university and polytechnic students following graduation, with interesting results.


Graduates from all fields of study other than agriculture are attracted to locate in places that have high overall quality of business, which tend to be the large cities. High quality of life is also an attractor for some students but its impact is more diffuse than is the pull of income opportunities. Image: Pixabay, Pexels.
quest for knowledge
Image: Rakicevic Nenad, Pexels.
BRANZ: The systematic quest for knowledge

BRANZ Chief Executive Chelydra Percy says the strength of science is playing out as the world tackles COVID-19, offering fact-based assessments at a time when we are bombarded with so much conflicting information.

In BRANZ's build magazine, Chelydra writes about how science's role is to question even in times of uncertainty. "In our search for the definitive answer, it is easy to get frustrated with science’s unwillingness to actually be definitive."

She writes that this lack of a single version of the truth is one of science’s great strengths. "No matter how many carefully designed experiments are done, scientists will always remain open to the possibility that new research tomorrow could change current understanding."


BRANZ’s collaborative science

As with many other professions, the way we do science has changed over the decades. A hundred years ago, research and fundamental discoveries could still be carried out by individuals.

However, this has changed in fundamental as well as applied science over the years, and teams have become the dominant structure to achieve valuable science. Now, multi-disciplinary teams broaden the knowledge base of the team, enabling it to approach a problem from different viewpoints.

Read an article by BRANZ Principal Scientist Dr Manfred Plagmann in the latest issue of build magazine about BRANZ's latest move to "research centres" to provide platforms where research collaboration and, more importantly, coordination are the goals.


building research
BRANZ scientists work collaboratively and in multi-disciplinary teams to effectively find answers to some of the complex issues that buildings present, particularly as the push to higher-performing buildings grows. Image: build magazine.
Great spotted kiwi
A study examining the voices of kiwi in the Paparoa Range hopes to identify unique voices of individual birds and shed new light on their territorial roaming and other interactions.
Verum Group studies kiwi calls

In mid-July, Verum Group’s Behavioural Ecologist Dr Laura Molles returned to the Paparoa Range bush to collect the kiwi call recordings from the audio recorders the Verum Group team set-up in June. Verum now have two weeks of recordings, with over 2000 hours to analyse.

Laura has counted 650 calls of female and male kiwi recorded across 10 of the 11 sites. The next step is measuring the detailed characteristics of all the songs to distinguish the different individuals. This will give the researchers an idea of how many kiwi are out there.

However, she says they will need to wait until the nesting season starts, around September, to know exactly who is who. "Combined with the data from the transmitters carried by some of the kiwi, we will be able to find nests and match the calls with the individuals in each nest."


HERA: NZ weathering steel guide for bridges

HERA, New Zealand's research and industry development organisation for metal-based industries, have released an updated steel design guide for bridges in New Zealand this month. It has been prepared to provide guidance to industry on the required aspects of site suitability, design, fabrication, construction, inspection, and maintenance for the appropriate use of weathering steel in bridges in New Zealand.

Weathering steel, or to use its technical title of “structural steel with improved atmospheric corrosion resistance”, is a high strength, low alloy, structural steel. In suitable environments it can be used in an unpainted condition which results in very low maintenance costs and an economic bridge solution.


steel bridge
Using weathering steel in bridge construction. Image: HERA.
BRI transforming grape waste to hand sanitiser

The Bragato Research Institute has attracted investment from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) COVID-19 Innovation Acceleration Fund for a pilot study that explores transforming grape marc – the skins and seeds remaining after pressing – into hand sanitiser. The hand sanitiser from the study will be donated to Marlborough health workers and first responders.

“Using winery waste to produce ethanol for hand sanitiser is untested in the New Zealand context with our varietals. We haven’t had the capability to conduct a study like this in New Zealand until now, with our new research winery opening in February,” says MJ Loza, CEO of Bragato Research Institute.


grape marc
The skins and seeds of grapes remaining after pressing will be used to create a hand sanitiser. Image: Bragato Institute.
Multimedia: Podcasts, audio, video, and more from our members

Check out the IRANZ multimedia page for more.


HERA: New episodes of Stirring the Pot podcast are out now

Four new episodes of HERA's Stirring the Pot have just been added to the audio page. The episodes include Calculating carbon footprint; Leading metal head on a mission!; Hydrogen - an alternative reductant?; and Covid-19 industry response.

Native red seaweed with potential to reduce methane emissions in livestock

TVNZ OnDemand's Rural Delivery stopped by to hear about IRANZ member Cawthron Institute's research into Asparagopsis armata, a native red seaweed which is gaining global attention for its potential to reduce agricultural methane emissions. Watch the episode on TVNZ OnDemand.

Johan Svenson on TVNZ's Rural Delivery


The Project NZ (TV3) – With the biggest brains on the job, how long till we get that COVID vaccine?

The global mission for a COVID-19 vaccine continues and the world’s biggest brains are on the job. But how long will it take? Research Director Professor Graham Le Gros, from the Malaghan Research Institute, talked to The Project NZ about the players in this race against time.

Follow us on Facebook or LinkedIn

IRANZ has gone social. For up-to-date information about the activities of our member organisations and same-day notification of updates to the website follow us on the link below.




IRANZ is an association of independent research organisations. Its members undertake scientific research, development or technology transfer. Members include Aqualinc Research Ltd, Bragato Research Institute, BRANZ, Cawthron Institute, Heavy Engineering Research Association (HERA), Land & Water Science, Leather & Shoe Research Association (LASRA), Lincoln Agritech Ltd, Mackie Research, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ), Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, New Zealand Institute of Minerals to Materials Research, PlantTech Research Institute, Titanium Industry Development Association Ltd (TiDA Ltd), Transport Engineering Research NZ Ltd (TERNZ), Verum Group, WSP Research, and Xerra Earth Observation Institute.

Contact: Dr Rob Whitney, Executive Officer, mobile: +64 27 2921050, email:

Copyright © iranz