Student research in the Manawatu: A showcase

RSNZ Manawatu Branch February 2015 meeting

7.30 pm Tuesday, 17 February, Te Manawa – Art Gallery, 326 Main Street, Palmerston North

Our February meeting will showcase the research of three students for Gold and Silver CREST (Creativity in Science and Technology) awards and the Genesis Energy/Royal Society of New Zealand Realise the Dream national celebration of secondary level science and technology excellence.

Safe Sunscreen Solution

 Zoe Glentworth

 Zoe is a Year 11 student at Palmerston North Girls’ High School. She has a passion for science and technology, and was selected to attend the Realise the Dream celebration of secondary level science and in both 2013 and 2014. She is also a Manawatu representative hockey player and is very involved in dancing and art.

Zoe’s Silver CREST and science fair project from 2014 focused on developing a natural, safe and effective sunscreen. She based her project on her discovery that unrefined blackcurrant oil blocks 99.7% of UVA light. She used her previously developed Kawakawa insect repelling balm as a base, to produce the duel sunscreen and insect repelling product, ‘Berry Sunblock’. With the support of the local iwi, Zoe investigated and harnessed the natural insect repelling properties of Kawakawa to produce her effective insect repelling balm. Zoe’s Kawakawa balm has been selling well at the Herb Farm in Ashhurst for 3 years. Zoe has appreciated the support of several mentors, but especially Lynn Kirkland at the Herb Farm.

Protein: Pro Teen?

 Brittany Vining

 Brittany’s Gold CREST project aimed to investigate whether an increase of whey protein in the diet of female adolescents improves their endurance, agility, and leg power in set physical tests. Thirty-five females, 14-17 years of age, participated in the double-blind trial over a nine week period, consuming either a protein or control smoothie three times each week. The participants in the trial also completed fortnightly physical tests to determine the improvement of certain components of fitness. This investigation found that there was no significant difference in the physical performance of the group that received additional protein compared to those who did not. However, it exposed the lack of protein in the diet of most of the trial participants. The study was extended to analyse the level of participation in physical activity, and found that the level of activity affected the percentage of change in results. This research identified a current niche for investigations into the dietary protein intake of female adolescents of all physical activity levels. This demographic is becoming increasingly concerned with their diet, and it is essential that they receive correct, accurate and current information. Brittany appreciated the support of her mentors from Fonterra Research (Dr Nick Robinson) and Massey University (Professor Hugh Morton).

This year Brittany is a first year student studying towards a Bachelor of Science with a Major in Human Nutrition and Minor in Genetics at Massey University, and plans to study a Bachelor of Biomedical Science in a few years, pursuing aspirations to complete reproductive and genetic post-graduate research.

 Deciphering the ambiguities of Trifolium ambiguum

 Minushika Punchihewa

 Trifolium ambiguum is a relatively new type of clover to New Zealand and is of great value to New Zealand’s’ agriculture because of its advantageous traits. Scientists are cross breeding T. ambiguum with the common White Clover (Trifolilum repens), in order to implement these advantageous characteristics into New Zealand’s pasture. One of the drawbacks of using T. ambiguum in breeding programmes, however, is that it exists as a polyploid series (with diploid, tetraploid and hexaploid forms). When diploid and hexaploid genotypes are cross-pollinated with tetraploid white clover, sterile and partially fertile triploid and pentaploid hybrids are produced. Due to their low fertility, triploid and pentaploid hybrids are less useful in plant breeding programmes. It is therefore very important that scientists know the ploidy of the T. ambiguum plants being used in breeding programmes.

To avoid this, T. ambiguum ploidies need to be confirmed before cross-pollination is carried out. Currently ploidy is determined by time-consuming chromosome spreads or expensive flow cytometry. Minushika wanted to identify a number of morphological traits that the plant breeder can use quickly and inexpensively to predict whether a plant is diploid, tetraploid or hexaploid. Seeds of eight T. ambiguum commercial cultivars were obtained from the Margot Forde Germplasm Centre, as well as 13 wild ecotypes whose ploidies were unknown. Twenty plants of each cultivar were grown by Minushika, and seed, leaflet, leaf marking and floral characteristics were measured at various stages of plant growth. The eight commercial cultivars with their known ploidy were used as controls to establish statistical models for each of the morphological characteristics to predict the ploidy of unknown ecotypes.

It was found that there were three major traits (seed size, red fleck and banner petal size), which were identified as being useful for differentiating diploid, tetraploid and hexaploid plants. The results of this research are significant to plant breeders and scientists as ploidy can be estimated quickly in the field or glasshouse. The traits observed cover different stages of the plant life cycles of T. ambiguum so ploidy can be determined by the seed, during plant growth and flowering. Plant breeders could preferentially select particular seeds, cull unwanted plants at the seedling stage, or select individual plants during pollination. This could save a significant amount of time, resources and money. Minushika appreciated the support of her mentor Michelle Williamson and other scientists at AgResearch.

Minushika Punchihewa is 18 years of age and about to start her first year at the University of Auckland to study a Bachelor of Health Sciences with the goal of getting into medicine.

 All warmly welcome

Earth Observation: Past, Present and Future

Mike Tuohy, Massey University

RSNZ Manawatu Branch AGM

7.30 pm Tuesday, 18 November, Te Manawa – Art Gallery, 326 Main Street, Palmerston North

 There are thousands of satellites orbiting the Earth, some are now mere space debris, while others are used for communication, science or for more covert purposes. This presentation will provide a glimpse into the many satellites orbiting above us, with a focus on the satellites that are equipped with sensors looking down on the Earth as they orbit. These Earth observation satellites help us to monitor our environment, capturing images and providing data on the Earth’s land, oceans, coasts, and climate.

Mike Tuohy is a Senior Lecturer in Earth Science in Massey University’s Institute of Agriculture and Environment. Mike’s research expertise lies in the field of remote sensing – observing the Earth by means of the many sensors orbiting the planet on satellites. Mike is also a map enthusiast with expertise in Geographic Information Systems and image processing.

 All warmly welcome