The scientists that saved kiwifruit

New Zealand: Prime Minister’s Science Prize for Plant & Food Research

Plant & Food Research is proud to be the recipient of this year’s Prime Minister’s Science Prize for its rapid response to the vine-killing kiwifruit disease PSA.

In November 2010, PSA (Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae) was first discovered in New Zealand. Plant & Food Research immediately mobilised a team of more than 100 people that included plant pathologists, breeders and orchard management specialists.

And now, in the 2016/2017 season, kiwi marketer Zespri exported $2.3 billion of fruit, almost 20% more than the season before PSA was discovered. The company is on track to double global sales to $4.5 billion by 2025. A recent report from the University of Waikato forecasts that by 2030, the industry will have created 29,000 new jobs in New Zealand and tripled GDP contribution to more than $6 billion.

“PSA was potentially devastating for the New Zealand kiwifruit industry,” says Dr Bruce Campbell, Plant & Food Research’s Chief Operating Officer. “When the disease was discovered, we knew we had limited time to find the solutions the industry needed to manage the disease and remain viable.”

Initially, the Plant & Food Research team worked with the industry to contain the spread of the disease by developing new orchard management techniques. The science team also developed diagnostic tests to inform growers’ management decisions and identified agrichemicals that could protect against the disease. Longer term, a new cultivar was required to support ongoing growth of the industry.

According to a scoop.co.nz article, the Prime Minister’s Science Prize includes a $400,000 prize fund to be used to support the team’s work. This prize money will be used to establish New Zealand as a hub for bio-protection technologies and further the development of new science technologies to protect plants against biosecurity threats.


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