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Otago Biochemistry’s Smart Ideas success with the 2021 Endeavour Fund

Tuesday 5 October 2021 1:49pm

Two innovative research projects emerging from the Department of Biochemistry have each been awarded a million dollars over three years through the MBIE ‘Smart Ideas’ Endeavour Fund.

Dr Augustine Chen and Dr Robert Day will use the money to help further develop their new early-stage cancer detection technology and Professor Peter Dearden will be developing genomic-based ways to predict the success of biocontrol to combat invasive pests.

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Dr Robert Day (left) and Dr Augustine Chen

Drs Chen and Day have been working with Associate Professor Mik Black to develop a new, sensitive and flexible test to detect early-onset cancer. The details of the test are commercially sensitive, but they envisage it to be equitable and affordable.

The test will be used easily in isolated and rural communities, improving health care by carrying out tests within those communities instead of having to send them to centralised facilities in major cities. Eventually, the technology involved could be useful in any test that involves DNA or RNA detection in remote settings, including infectious disease surveillance on farms, conservation efforts, and environmental monitoring.

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Professor Peter Dearden

Biocontrol is where a predator or disease of a damaging, invasive pest is imported and spread through the environment in order to control that pest. It can be effective, pesticide-free, and non-GMO, but new biocontrol agents often don’t work because they don’t spread well in the new environment, or they find native species to attack.

Prof Dearden wants to improve biocontrol systems already present in New Zealand by developing genomic-based tools to predict their effectiveness.

He has access to ‘a remarkable 35-year experiment carried out in New Zealand biocontrol’. He will look at the genomes, microbiomes and viromes of biocontrol species in this experiment, and identify factors within that which are associated with biocontrol success and failure. He will then use that information to help predict success of new biocontrol species before they are released.

You can find out more about the Ministry for Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) Endeavour Fund here:

Endeavour Fund

And you can read more about the research of Dr Chen, Dr Day, and Professor Dearden here:

Dr Augustine Chen’s profile page

Dr Rob Day’s profile page

Prof Peter Dearden’s profile page