Graduate’s research conserves kiwifruit

Master of Biological Science graduate Ashleigh Browne takes on the hard task of conserving the kiwifruit industry. Photo: Supplied.

The humble kiwifruit has beaten the grape for the first time in the race for highest industry export, and a Whakatane woman says we need to keep it that way.

Waikato University Master of Biological Science graduate Ashleigh Browne has 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 will join other local, national and international speakers in Tauranga at the Blue2Green Marine Biotechnology conventionto present her Masters research.

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,” says Ashleigh.

“As a recent University of Waikato graduate now out in the workforce, it makes me incredibly proud to be able to attend Blue2Green and 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.”

A fascination with the concept of bio-discovery and curiosity to explore the virtually untapped marine environment led Ashleigh to embark her Master's research project, which crosses two fields of study.

In her research she looks at 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.

“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,” says Ashleigh.

After completing a Diploma in Marine Studies from the (then) Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, Ashleigh went on to a Bachelor of Biological Sciences from the University of Waikato in Tauranga.

She then continued her Master of Biological Science 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.  

Blue2Green Chair professor Chris Battershill, who is one of Ashleigh's supervisors and Chair of Coastal Science at Waikato University says what Ashleigh has researched is important to New Zealand economy.

“A focus is to examine how certain marine products may resolve or ameliorate problems we have on land, hence the title Blue2Green. Ashleigh's Psa research - harnessing seaweed to protect a valuable horticultural commodity like kiwifruit – encapsulates the theme of the convention. 

“It's time to get smart about our marine resources. To value them, conserve them and to realise the potential they have in sectors other than food.”

Blue2Green is the first meeting of its type in the country and brings together scientists, business people and policy makers to examine how advances in marine biotechnology may benefit New Zealand and New Zealanders.

The theme of the three-day convention is Toitu te Moana, Toitu te Tangata - Sustainability of the sea, sustainability of the people. It runs from August 8 to 10 at the Tauranga Yacht Club.

 



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The Lovely Mount Maunganui beach. Photo: Denis Player.

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