Success for Scion in latest funding round

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Two innovative Scion research projects will receive investment funding totalling $1.9 million over three years through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s 2022 Endeavour Fund.

Scion scientists will also contribute their expertise to a further six projects involving other research organisations that secured Government support from the Endeavour Fund – Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest contestable research fund.

The successful science projects were announced by Research, Science and Innovation Minister Hon Dr Ayesha Verrall yesterday.

Endeavour funding for the two successful Scion projects will come from its Smart Ideas investment mechanism. Smart Ideas are intended to catalyse and rapidly test promising, innovative research ideas with high potential for benefit to New Zealand.

One pioneering Scion project, in partnership with the University of Cambridge, ‘Implanted sensors monitoring tree health and carbon capture efficiency’, will receive $1 million over three years to design sensors to measure the nutritional status, vitality, carbon capture efficiency and microbiome fitness of growing trees.

Precision forestry uses remote sensing tools such as satellites and drones, combined with sophisticated sensors, to detect subtle variations in plant health, nutrient and water status.

Monitoring the physiological processes inside trees in real-time is the only way to fully understand how trees are responding to the environment around them and to future-proofing their resilience to climate change.

To implement this in practice, Scion will develop sophisticated low-cost bioelectronic sensors which can be implanted inside trees. These types of sensors have been used in biomedical research – but rarely used inside trees for forestry. Their use in New Zealand radiata pine will be pioneering.

Data generated by these sensors will be transmitted from the trees via a wireless network in the forest.

Fusing data from remote sensing together with physiological sensors within trees, combined with genome and climate data, can provide the most complete insights into a growing forest anywhere in the world.

Successful too, was the Scion proposal, ‘Plant-inspired 3D-printed scaffold for tissue culture’. Awarded $900,000 over three years, Scion scientists will explore new technology that aims to improve the tissue culture technique that makes clonal forestry possible in conifers.

Commercial forestry relies on producing vast numbers of trees – often elite clones. Somatic embryogenesis is the tissue culture technique that is used to create embryos for this purpose, but it has some limitations.

Somatic embryos can have trouble maturing on a flat surface – effectively when they are sitting on a dish on a laboratory bench. In nature, these embryos would mature in a complex three-dimensional structure as they interact with other cells and respond to different gradients and signals of temperature, mechanical force, nutrients and plant hormones.

Replicating this environment is extremely challenging in the laboratory, yet it is the key to successful tissue culture.

This project will adopt sophisticated 3D printing techniques using hydrogels to create a scaffold with gradients of hormones, nutrients and porosity along its length. To visualise this scaffold, imagine a large cardboard tube with round holes in the sides and complex gradients of hormones and nutrients along its length.

While the immediate application is in the forestry industry, the same technique can be applied to other plant species, mammals and create new biomedical opportunities.

Science leaders at Scion will also contribute to six collaborative projects that received a total of $5,754,700 from the Endeavour Fund. They involve joint research with Auckland University, WSP Research NZ Ltd, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, Lincoln University, Auckland University of Technology and Massey University.

Scion chief executive Dr Julian Elder says yesterday’s announcement is fantastic news for the Scion teams who were successful in securing funding.

“We’re delighted with the funding win, which acknowledges the value that we know forests can contribute to a more prosperous economy and healthier environment.

“Forests will be at the heart of a low-carbon future New Zealand. At Scion, we’re proud to lead research that will unleash the power of forestry, tackle climate change and help transition New Zealand to a circular bioeconomy.

“I congratulate all the funding recipients and look forward to supporting our teams as this important research gets underway.”

The Endeavour Fund supports excellent research with the potential to positively transform New Zealand’s economy, environment and society. This year a total of $236.5 million has been allocated to 71 projects.

Related: Scion – Celebrating 75 years of impact

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