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Understanding rusts at Aorere College, Year 10 Mātauranga Māori class


15 September 2019

A finalist in the 2019 New Zealand Biosecurity Awards, the Year 10 Mātauranga Māori class at Aorere College is working with Plant & Food Research scientists to discover the role that research plays in ensuring maximum effectiveness of New Zealand’s biosecurity systems.

The project is supported through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s 'Unlocking Curious Minds' fund.

The programme is focused on invasive species, particularly those that threaten our taonga trees like pōhutukawa, rātā and mānuka. Their work involves comparisons of exotic and native rust species, learning theoretical and experimental concepts used in research into unwanted plant diseases.

Classroom experiments have been a key learning method, including the analysis of fungal infection processes and the assessment of fungi and bacteria on plant leaves found in the local area. Students also supported myrtle rust surveillance in the Auckland Botanic Gardens, guided by identification keys for plants and diseases they developed themselves. Comments from the students included:

  • “We found out that myrtle rust had originated from Brazil and its progression to New Zealand was carried out by the wind."
  • "We learnt how to identify leaves because identification is helpful in classifying plant varieties and their families. Over time we found out that not all plants are or can be infected by this fungal disease.”

The students are also providing scientists with new perspectives on how to make biosecurity research more practical and engaging for the community. They have also shown an outstanding level of understanding and engagement with the subject matter, and are demonstrating that these concepts could be integrated into the science curriculum at an earlier age.

The Aorere College students are being equipped with the knowledge to be part of the solution around biosecurity issues in New Zealand and they deserve to be recognised for supporting New Zealand’s biosecurity efforts.