Of vineyard fungi, goats and cats: Summer scholars tackle research projects

13 February 2015

Summer Scholar, Hani Omer

The vineyard pest botrytis is a fungus that causes ‘bunch rot’ on grapes – a disaster for winemakers.  But which botrytis isolates are most resistant to fungicides? 

Hani Omer is spending her summer finding out. She’s one of 39 School of Biological Sciences students who each won a $5000 summer scholarship to work alongside researchers in the school and in partner institutions.

Hani, who finished her Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences last year, is working with Dr Peter Johnston and Paula Wilkie of Landcare Research to test the fungicide resistance of botrytis isolates collected from Waipara, Marlborough and Hawkes Bay vineyards.  “The value of this project,” says Hani, “is that it will provide a platform for educated advice on the prevention of botrytis infection and disease development.”

Four-legged pests – feral goats that are eating their way through native vegetation in the Hunua Ranges – are the focus of Erica Marshall’s work with SBS senior lecturer Dr Todd Dennis and Auckland Council biosecurity specialist Mark Mitchell. “Goats’ gregarious nature makes the tracking of one goat an effective method for finding a herd,” says Erica, who is helping to develop, waterproof and test a GPS collar for these so-called ‘Judas’ goats. She has just finished her third year of a double major in biological and anthropological sciences, and this year pursues an honours degree in movement ecology.

Domestic cats and people’s attitudes to them are at the centre of Gemma Plank’s summer scholarship.  Under the supervision of SBS’s Dr Margaret Stanley, Gemma, who is studying law and science, has sent a mail survey to people in different suburbs in Auckland “to see if people's attitudes towards cats are different in forested suburbs as compared to urban suburbs.  We're researching to see whether cat ownership across the different suburbs differs and if people realise the impact that cats have on our native wildlife.”

Several of SBS’s summer students are working alongside researchers at Comvita, a highly successful natural products company based in the Bay of Plenty.  Nazanin Rafati is exploring how olive product extracts work to lower blood pressure, and Chee Kiang Ewe is investigating the anti-inflammatory effects of New Zealand honeys. Morgan Hand is investigating the anti-microbial activity of a range of medical honey products from around the world, and Leon Wang is testing the anti-microbial activity of natural oral care products.

** The other summer scholars are Andre Bellve, Alastair  Binney, David Broderick, Miriam Bulach, Samantha Collings, Francesca Conroy,  Brady Cress, Fenella Deans, Jamie-Lee Foss,  Simrat Gill,   Crystal James,  Letitia Jones,  Nicky Kerr,  Ming Hui Lee, Dharini Marinkovich, Amy Martin,  Rickaan Muirhead, Keely Mistral Paler, Angel Peng,  Alistair Kendrick, Alina Rankin, Nicola Read,  Benjamin Reed, Nina Robb,  Simon Scott, Yang Zheng, Jessica Ryder, Nalini Singh, Robert Vennell, IsabelleVerney,  Hang Xu and Marisa Sorce. All were profiled on the SBS Facebook page