New Zealand is a world leader in producing great food through pastoral farming, horticulture and viticulture. Research at Massey helps underpin New Zealand's primary industries. We are advancing knowledge in the development of improved plant production and technologies that are needed to feed a rapidly increasing world population.
We are also researching pathogens that reduce productivity or threaten native flora, and studying the ecology and evolution of plants to understand how they adapt in our changing world.
Ecophysiology is the application of science to determine what makes a better plant. This may be an 'environment-friendly' plant that requires less fertiliser nitrogen, a forage with superior herbage quality to deliver faster animal weight gain, a turf grass that stays green in summer yet consumes less water, or a manuka plant with increased levels of the antibacterial UMF compound.
Molecular plant pathology
We investigate the molecular basis of plant–microbe interactions. The main goal of our research is to develop a comprehensive understanding of these interactions, with the goal of better informing disease resistance breeding programmes.
Massey’s plant breeding researchers are active in an range of disciplines including genetic resources, genomics, physiology, resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses, and end-use quality.
Our breeding program covers the spectrum from pasture to arable and horticultural crops. We work closely with Massey staff across the University, as well as researchers at AgResearch and Plant and Food Research.
Plant evolutionary biology
Plant evolutionary biology involves the study of historical and current processes that have generated the great diversity of life that surrounds us today. We are involved in field-based studies, and have expertise in molecular genetics and genomic approaches to understand reproductive systems, genome and morphological evolution.
Plant physiology is about understanding how plants function, in both the natural and agricultural environment, and in response to stresses and challenges that plants have to cope with on a daily basis. Plant physiology is multi-disciplinary and vital economically to our future.
Quantitative and population genetics in plants
We are focused on understanding the distribution of genetic variation within and among groups of individual plants. We also work through quantitative genetics to elucidate the genetic basis of traits with continuous distributions. In plant science, these fields of study are utilised to several ends, including conservation biology, evolution, plant breeding, functional genetics and more.
Systematics and taxonomy in plants
Systematics and taxonomy involves the study of living organisms, how they are related, and how they named. This area of plant science involves field-based studies, natural history collections, morphological investigations, as well as molecular genetic and genomics approaches.
Our research focuses on weed-related issues in agriculture, horticulture and conservation. This includes herbicide management and resistance, managing weeds with ground cover, weed control during revegetation and controlling pasture weeds with alternative grazers such as goats.
Ingredient functionality: Extracting the best out of Mamaku gum
Massey scientists have recently shown that mamaku gum delays gastric emptying, temporarily reduces food intake and induces a short-term reduction in weight gain.
This viscoelastic gum is extracted from the fronds of the native New Zealand black tree fern (well known as mamaku in te reo Māori). Massey scientists have been investigating the properties of this gum for over ten years. The gum, a polysaccharide has unique flow (rheological) properties at the shear rates in the stomach.
Kauri at risk
The future of the iconic kauri tree of New Zealand (Agathis australis) is under serious threat from a dieback disease caused by the fungus-like organism Phytophthora agathidicida. This pathogen invades through the tree roots and damages the tissues that carry nutrients within the tree.So far, very little is known about these interactions at the molecular level.
A Massey University research team is studying proteins of P. agathidicida that are important in these interactions. This work is expected to help identify resistance traits in kauri that could be used in selection and breeding programmes.
Making the switch
Filamentous fungi are among the most destructive and economically relevant plant pathogens. Crucial to their success as pathogens is their ability to switch between cellular morphotypes during host infection. Relatively little is known about modifications to the fungal cell surface that enable these organisms to differentiate and maintain infection-related cellular morphotypes during colonization of the hostile host interior.
A research project led by plant pathologist Dr Carl Mesarich is aiming to provide a more comprehensive understanding of these modifications using the apple scab fungus, Venturia inaequalis, as a model. This research will offer new insights into how filamentous fungi cause disease, and may open up new opportunities for disease resistance breeding and pathogen control.
Pathogens in the Pacific
Massey scientists are developing a potentially game-changing low-cost mobile genetic diagnostics system to detect and quantify pathogens in food, water, humans, livestock and crops in Pacific Islands is among projects Massey University will lead in partnership with UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation).
Plant species radiation
Massey University's Professor Peter Lockhart is acting as co-ordinator for a range of projects investigating species radiation, with a focus on New Zealand flora.
This work is looking to answer questions such as: when and why does species radiation occur? Why have some plant groups radiated and diversified more than others? What roles do glacial refugia play? and How can genetic and genome information be integrated into biodiversity conservation strategies?
Dame Ella Campbell Herbarium (MPN)
The Dame Ella Campbell Herbarium houses more than 40,000 flora specimens.
The majority of our collection comes from New Zealand, but there are also many specimens from around the world. The majority of our material is from the North Island from the Volcanic Plateau, to Hawke’s Bay and Taranaki and south to Wellington.
Massey Botanic Gardens
This project is working to expand on Massey’s already expansive campus to create a botanic garden available for research, teaching and to the community across New Zealand and internationally. The garden will generate a wealth of information on restoration methods and the management of rare, threatened and endangered plants from around the world.
Massey Horticultural Units
The Massey Horticultural Units are Massey University's purpose-built facility to facilitate teaching and research in plant science and production. They are located on the Palmerston North campus.
As well as our students using these facilities for their learning and research, we work closely with industry who use the Units for research and development.
New Zealand Indigenous Flora Seed Bank
The New Zealand Indigenous Flora Seed Bank (NZIFSB) aims to collect the seeds of New Zealand flora, to conserve the biodiversity within New Zealand’s indigenous flora. Seed banking is a recognised conservation strategy to support in-situ conservation efforts.
Palynology is the science of pollen. It brings together aspects of geography, earth science, plant biology and ecology.
Massey operates a world-class palynology laboratory for pollen analysis, where we have developed the Classifynder, a holistic automated pollen imaging and classification system.
Joint Graduate School of Horticulture and Food Enterprise
Massey University and Plant & Food Research have jointly created this graduate school to offer students world class learning and research opportunities. Massey's teaching and research expertise is complemented by Plant & Food Research's focus on delivering for industry. Staff work together on research and in teaching.
Molecular Plant Pathology Laboratory
Our research seeks to understand the molecular basis of plant-pathogen interactions so that we can better inform disease resistance breeding programmes in crop and tree species of relevance to New Zealand.
Biolumic is a company focusing on applying UV light treatments to seedlings and seeds to deliver long-term crop benefits. These include improved crop consistency, increased yield and disease resistance. The company was founded by Associate Professor Jason Wargent based his many years of research into UV/plant interactions. In 2018 Biolumic secured US$5 million funding.