With an industry valued at $1.6 billion to the New Zealand economy, the humble kiwifruit has beaten the grape for the first time in the race for highest export value.
Protecting our national fruit from threats like terrestrial pathogen Psa may sound like a job for the Men in Black, but Whakatane woman Ashleigh Browne dedicated her Masters research to the discovery of marine bioactive compounds to control the disease that threatened the kiwifruit industry over seven years ago.
She examined seaweeds that were known to produce bioactive compounds for defence against related pathogens in the marine environment and tested a variety of species for anti-Psa activity. As the world’s largest exporter of kiwifruit, Ashleigh’s research explores alternative, sustainable agrichemical control options for the long-term management of the country’s kiwifruit industry.
“The organic nature of a novel marine-derived agrichemical will likely have little to no environmental effects in comparison to other tools. Also, because the product is marine-derived, it’s less likely that Psa, a terrestrial pathogen, will develop resistance.”
Next week Ashleigh joins an accomplished group of local, national and international speakers at the Blue2Green Marine Biotechnology Convention in Tauranga to present her Masters research. Blue2Green is the first meeting of its type in this country and brings together scientists, business people and policy makers to examine how advances in marine biotechnology may benefit New Zealand and New Zealanders.
Ashleigh says that being able to attend a world-class event that showcases a region that sits very close to her heart and home, is a rarity. “There are not many occasions when the fields leading thinkers, dreamers, and doers all come together into one room to share knowledge and ideas.”
A fascination with the concept of ‘bio-discovery’ — the discovery of natural resources for potential commercial applications — and curiosity to explore the virtually untapped marine environment led Whakatane’s Ashleigh Browne to embark her Master’s research project which crosses two field of study. Two years on and she now works in a job that encompasses both biodiscovery and marine biology.
After completing a Diploma in Marine Studies from the (then) Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, Ashleigh went on to a Bachelor of Science majoring in Biological Sciences from the University of Waikato in Tauranga. She then continued her Master of Biological Science (MSc) from Waikato, and, handed in her thesis the same month she started her first graduate job at Opotiki’s New Zealand Manuka Group. Ashleigh’s role as a technical officer within the science team focuses on exploring new windows of opportunity within the company’s seaweed and Manuka/ Kanuka oil divisions.
“As a recent University of Waikato graduate now out in the workforce, it makes me incredibly proud to be able attend Blue2Green to sit beside people like my MSc supervisors and participate, learn, and grow as a new industry representative. Then, to be able to take this new knowledge and use it to create innovative ideas in my own workplace, is invaluable.”