The sweet taste of research success
19 January 2018
The mysteries of the X-factor behind Mānuka honey are being uncovered by University of Waikato researchers.
A team from the School of Science has just completed a ground-breaking study of Mānuka nectar physiology, looking at how the genetics of the plant, age of the flower, and the environment influence nectar production.
Lead researcher Associate Professor Mike Clearwater says at the moment predicting the amount and quality of Mānuka honey produced from an area can be a bit hit and miss, so they are trying to create a better model. Despite a large industry growing around the unique properties of Mānuka honey, little is known about how the Mānuka flower itself makes nectar, or why it contains the active ingredient, DHA.
Dr Clearwater says Mānuka flowers live up to three weeks, and they’ve found the highest concentration of DHA in their nectar occurs at about four days. He says that is not a big window of opportunity, particularly considering that if an insect doesn’t take the nectar it is reabsorbed rather than becoming concentrated.
The research, published this month in the international journal ‘Annals of Botany’, is part of a multi-million dollar five-year programme ‘Resilience in Māori Honey”, involving Crown Research Institutes and a number of iwi groups.
The University of Waikato has just provided about 1300m2 of land on the west side of the Hamilton campus to grow Mānuka plants for the project. Researchers and students will carry out a range of experiments to test the effects of soil nutrition, plant genetics and other factors on the production of flowers and nectar. They also hope to learn more about why Mānuka produces bioactive nectar, and how to control its quality, including comparing Mānuka plants sourced from different areas of the country.
The goal is to help Māori landowners develop their honey agribusinesses, and create a model to be used to increase production of native honeys and improve their value, as well as manage the resource more sustainably.