University of Waikato PhD candidate Rasika Subasinghe has been awarded a Zespri Innovation Fellowship for her research into the host cell wall degrading strategies of the Psa bacteria in kiwifruit.
Each year, as part of their efforts to encourage continued research into the kiwifruit industry, the Zespri Innovation Fellowship group identify key topics in areas where there is a specific need for research. This year topics included Psa, fruit quality and supply chain, on orchard productivity and health and nutrition.
Host cell wall degrading strategies of Psa in kiwifruit
“The goals of my research are to determine whether and how Psa degrades the host’s cell walls, how the pathogen moves within the host’s tissues, and ultimately, how Psa causes tissue wilt and cane die back. These goals will be achieved using a range of plant physiology, microbiology, molecular biology, bioinformatics and histological techniques, thus, building capability and research into the New Zealand kiwifruit industry,” says Rasika.
Studies conducted to investigate the actual invasion strategies and mobility of the Psa pathogen in the host plant remains inconclusive. “However the outcome of the research conducted into the host cell wall degrading activity and invasion strategies of a number of other pathogens, and also histological analysis of Psa infected host plants, shed some light on the possible cell wall degrading mechanism of the pathogen.”
From Sri Lanka to Hamilton
Before studying at Waikato University, Rasika worked at the University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka. She has also worked as a researcher at the Postharvest Technology Unit of Industrial Technology Institute of Sri Lanka and at the Chamber of Industries of Sri Lanka as an Executive for the Agriculture and Horticulture sector.
When considering a suitable university, Rasika’s main consideration was the research expertise of the faculty and the degree of relevance of such expertise to her intended project.
“My research project required expertise in a number of areas such as plant physiology, microbiology, molecular biology and biochemistry. At Waikato University I was able to identify potential supervisors with expertise and track record in all of these disciplines.”
She says that the University of Waikato’s approach and the way the entire PhD enrolment process was handled was great, especially where her supervisor Dr Michael Clearwater was concerned and this gave her confidence that she had “found an excellent university”.