Funding to encourage Māori involvement in genomics

9 June 2015

Maui Hudson
Maui Hudson

The University of Waikato has been awarded $100,000 from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund for a 12-month project entitled Te Waka a Tama-rereti: Networking Māori Expertise in Genomics, Informatics and Technology. MBIE's Vision Mātauranga policy aims to unlock the science and innovation potential of Māori knowledge, resources and people for the benefit of New Zealand.

The project, led by Maui Hudson, aims to bring together Māori experience in genomics, computer science and technology. The project team includes researchers from University of Auckland and University of Otago, Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, and two National Science Challenges - Biological Heritage led by Landcare Research, and Science for Technological Innovation led by Callaghan Innovation.

Their aim is to develop a one-week summer internship programme for Māori students to run over the 2015/16 summer. Maui says the programme is modelled on a similar one operating in the US called SING – Summer Internship for Natives in Genomics. He hopes it will be established on an ongoing basis.

"There's a lot of research money going into genomic science and technology, and we want to create more opportunities for Māori to engage and develop technology-based research programmes."

Genomic science aims to increase understanding of the genetics of organisms to support agricultural or horticultural development and biosecurity or biodiversity outcomes.

"Māori share similar interests in maintaining the integrity of the environment and are beginning to engage and involve themselves in this area of science," says Maui.

"The network is about bringing together Māori researchers and Māori stakeholders with an interest in using genetic/genomic technologies and information science to advance their environmental and economic objectives."

Increasingly research and development organisations are recognising the cultural and spiritual links between indigenous species and Tangata Whenua. This project will build on the collaborative spirit of the National Science Challenges and the Māori research excellence fostered by Nga Pae o te Maramatanga to create a network of Māori expertise in genomics, informatics and technology to initiate Vision Matauranga inspired research programmes and support knowledge transfer into the Māori sector for commercial and environmental outcomes.

Maui says it is proposed this network be an independent "go to" network of Māori researchers to provide expert advice and technical support for Māori communities regarding modern genomic technologies.

"We are aware of at least 10 researchers of Māori descent with advanced qualifications in this area, with more currently being trained in these technologies at graduate level. The network will also include both kaitiaki and Māori business interests who share a commitment to the appropriate utilisation of matauranga Māori and taonga species for research and development activities."