New funding takes the fight to myrtle rust

Supplied photo.



Plant & Food Research and Scion have been successful in the latest round of MBIE’s Catalyst Strategic Fund with a project addressing the threat of myrtle rust to New Zealand.

The project has three key aims: to establish the susceptibility of key species to myrtle rust, build scientific knowledge for successfully storing germplasm of Myrtaceae species, and develop ‘in the field’ plant pathogen detection and surveillance systems.


“This is very important and timely research now that myrtle rust is present on the New Zealand mainland,” says Plant & Food Research Bioprotection Technologies Scientist and the project’s Principal Investigator Dr Grant Smith.

“This fungal pathogen threatens many species that have environmental, economic, social and cultural importance, including the indigenous pōhutukawa, rātā, kānuka, and mānuka, as well as exotic plant species such as Eucalyptus and feijoa.”

The Catalyst Fund supports international research partnerships and scientific cooperation. In this case, New Zealand scientists will be working closely with colleagues in leading biosecurity organisations across the Tasman, with the research collaboration between Plant Health Australia and New Zealand’s Better Border Biosecurity providing the overarching coordination.

“New Zealand and Australia have much to learn from each other with regards to the invasive species in their respective countries. Myrtle rust is something that Australia has been dealing with for seven years and our experience can really help New Zealand,” says Plant Health Australia Executive Director and CEO Greg Fraser.

The programme reinforces the development of a key trans-Tasman partnership between members of New Zealand’s Better Border Biosecurity network and Australian biosecurity organisations.

“Australia and New Zealand face many of the same issues and opportunities in bio-protection and biosecurity, so high-quality collaborations of this nature are very important. Smart partnerships like this achieve better outcomes than working alone,” says Better Border Biosecurity Director Dr David Teulon.

“Many biosecurity issues are too large for one organisation or sector to tackle alone. Myrtle rust is a prime example and we are very pleased to receive support from the Catalyst Fund to help reduce the threat this disease poses to our myrtles,” says Scion Research Leader Dr Beccy Ganley.

The project will employ the expertise of Plant & Food Research, Scion, Plant Health Australia, Te Turi Whakamātaki (National Maori Biosecurity Network), the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, NSW Department of Primary Industries and the Wellington Botanic Gardens. The project is also linked with scientists at Kew Gardens in the United Kingdom, who have significant expertise in the conservation of Myrtaceae species.

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