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NZ Genomics research spans wine, kakapo and maggots as turnover rises

Friday 12th September 2014

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New Zealand Genomics, tasked with providing genomics infrastructure to researchers nationwide, had a 36 percent turnover boost in the September year compared to the previous year.

Genomics is the study of genes and genomes and their application in a wide range of fields from agriculture to medicine. NZGL was set up in 2010, funded by the government and three universities, as a genomics infrastructure provider to boost the use of genomic technologies in research.

Chief executive Tony Lough said his company had delivered services to researchers within nearly every university, crown research institute, and genomics-consuming company in New Zealand in the past year with turnover at $2.51 million across 252 service agreements for about 500 researchers.

"Every performance metric is positive. We're doing better than I thought we would be," he said.

The most substantial project NZGL has been involved in to date is supporting the consolidation of four regional breast cancer centres with the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation and the Ministry of Health. The research will link clinical data and genomic data so a national database can be developed to provide a world-leading platform for researchers, Lough said.

The register should be in beta testing by the end of the year and they were just about to select a vendor, he said.

NZGL's annual report includes a number of other case studies of research it has helped from genomics research into the "jumping genes" of grapes that could see new styles of wines to helping the kakapos long-term survival to a new look at medicinal maggots.

In the wine example, Lincoln University senior lecturer Chris Winefield is studying transpoons - DNA sequences which move from one location on the genome to another. He's studying whether the normally silent transpoons can be reawakened and reinserted into new locations in the grape genome to potentially create new clones of New Zealand's two key varietals, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. NZGL's Bio-IT platform is helping with the bioinformatics analysis required to progress the research.

Research is also underway into the genetic diversity in the immune systems of New Zealand's kakapo that could ensure its survival. There are currently 123 adult kakapos. University of Otago zoology doctoral student Gabrielle Knaffer said inbreeding and genetic drift can hurt the endangered specie's long-term viability even when the immediate threats to reproduction are reduced. NZGL's MiSq technology was used to extract the necessary genetic data to determine if there was any immune gene diversity between kakapos from Stewart Island and those on the mainland. The research is looking at the potential to prioritise mating between birds with the appropriate immunity gene combinations.

Biotherapy using maggots to heal wounds has been around for a long time but University of Auckland researcher Cherie Blenkiron is investigating medicinal maggots, the larval phase of a blowfly that is specifically bred for laboratory use. Her work centres on the specific RNA molecules these maggots produce and the possible role they could play in healing wounds. NZGL helped sequence the RNA molecules ad then did bioinformatics analysis of the RNA to determine its source.


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