SING Aotearoa encourages Māori into genetic science

The Riddet Institute has recently joined alongside other supporting organisations with SING ( Summer internship for Indigenous peoples in Genomics) Aotearoa to encourage Māori to study genetic science. The aim of the week-long annual summer internship programme, now in its fourth year and held this year in the Manawatū, is to develop understanding of genomics from the leading researchers in New Zealand and beyond.

The week-long residential internship programme provided participants with knowledge and experience in laboratories, alongside a programme of lectures and workshops covering topics from breeding technologies, commercialisation, food innovation and research, bioinformatics, plant genetics and finishing with research case studies that they can share with their wider communities. Twenty Māori interns experienced the programme organised by Associate Professor Maui Hudson (University of Waikato), Dr Katharina Ruckstuhl and Dr Phil Wilcox (University of Otago), who are researchers involved with the Science for Technological Innovation National Science Challenge and Genomics Aotearoa.

Dr Jane Mullaney (Riddet Institute affiliated researcher from AgResearch) and Melanie Ruffell (Riddet Institute stakeholder relationship manager) joined the programme in Palmerston North in January to talk to the students about “Food Innovation – Partnering with Science”. They discussed a recently funded project exploring the possibility of growing bananas commercially in Gisborne.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Vision Mātauranga Capability fund supplied the backing for whanau-based Māori company Tai Pukenga to run a pilot banana-growing programme, alongside AgResearch. With additional funds and scientific support from AgResearch, the group are trying to develop bananas from tissue culture. The team used a novel genetic technology from AgResearch to identify the Gisborne grown varieties. They will also carry out some analysis of the nutritional value of the locally grown bananas. The study continues with the ultimate aim to produce bananas for sale in New Zealand’s supermarkets in the next 2 years.

SING Aotearoa aims to provide these opportunities as “significant advances in the fields of genetics and genomics sees an increasing focus on Māori populations and indigenous species. Research conducted in Aotearoa New Zealand should involve consultation with Iwi and it is important that Māori understand the technical, ethical and cultural issues when engaging with researchers in these projects. The Summer Internship for Indigenous Genomics, modelled on an US based initiative, emerged from a Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund Connect Scheme and is now funded by Genomics Aotearoa”.

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