Newsletter Digest: Psa, awards, and vitamin D

Scientists battle bacterial disease

A week on from the discovery of the PSA bacterial disease in an orchard in the Bay of Plenty, scientists are completing tests that will determine what strain of the disease is present.

The results will yield important information that will help determine the best way to limit and eradicate the disease. This scientific paper from the Korean Plant Pathology Journal in 2004 compared strains of Pseudomonas syringae pv actinidiae in Japan, where the disease first appeared in the early 1980s, and Korea, which first saw vines affected by the disease in 1988.

The Korean and Japanese strains were both sensitive to copper sulphate – with which MAF has begun to spray infected orchards – but Japanese strains were more resistant to relevant antibiotics than their Korean counterparts.

The Korean scientists were unable to pinpoint the exact origin of the PSA that affected Korean orchards, but said its impact on affected orchards meant it was “very urgent to develop an efficient control strategy for the disease”, which has also appeared in Italy and Iran.

“It is suspected that PSA might be introduced into Korea from Japan with the imported seedlings of kiwifruit in mid 1980s when bacterial canker had severely occurred in Japan. However, there has been no report on the characteristics and exact origin of the bacterium in Korea until now.”

TVNZ factbox on PSA
Herald Online factbox on PSA

Vitamin D symposium

Vitamin D is the source of a great deal of conversation at the moment.

Produced by our bodies when our skin is directly exposed to UV, it plays a key role in our health, and particularly in the strength of our immune systems.

However, New Zealanders are strongly encourged to cover up and apply sunscreen whenever they’re in the sun, and there are now concerns that it might be putting people at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Next week, a one-day symposium held by Massey university will be looking into the issue. Featuring experts from around the world, it will explore the latest research on vitamin D deficiency and its effects on health, to what extend we’re deficient (or not), and the situation with supplementation and fortification both here and overseas.

Research Honours for top scientists

Wednesday night saw the annual Research Awards Dinner taking place in Christchurch.
Held by the Royal Society, and with many of the awards presented by them, it recognises and honours New Zealand’s top scientists.

The top award (the Rutherford Medal), which comes with $100,000, was awarded to Otago university Professor Warren Tate, for his outstanding work in molecular biology and neuroscience over the past few decades.  Professor Tate is currently researching Alzheimer’s and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Some of the other winners include (full list on the Royal Society website):

  • Pickering Medal (top tech award): Professor Frank Griffin (also from Otago) for his work in developing bacterial diagnostic tests, and a vaccine, for deer.
  • Thomson Medal: Dr Shaun Coffee, IRL, for his leadership in the management of science
  • Hutton Medal (plant sciences): Dr Grant Williams, IRL, for his work on the chemical and electronic structure of materials, particularly high temperature superconductors
  • Jones Medal (lifetime achievement in mathematics): A new award, this went to Professor Emeritus John Butcher FRSNZ, Auckland Univeristy, for his work on solving differential equations and his leadership in developing mathematical sciences in NZ
  • T.K. Sidey Medal (electromagnetic radiation research): Grant Caldwell, GNS, for his work using magneto-telluric techniques to study the earth’s volcanic and fault line regions
  • Dame Joan Metge Medal (social sciences): Awarded to Professor Richard Bedford FRSNZ, AUT University/University of the Waikato for his contribution to our undertstanding of migration and Professor Richard Poulton FRSNZ, Otago University, who is the director of the University of Otago longitudinal study.

Ten researchers were also chosen for the new Rutherford Discovery Fellowships, a government-funded initiative to support early to midcareer scientists.  The Fellowships will provide up to $200,000 a year in financial support to the researchers, over a five-year period.