Understanding rusts, fungal invaders of Aotearoa

Since February, the Year 10 Mātauranga Māori class at Aorere College (Papatoetoe, South Auckland) has been supported by regular lessons with the scientists at Plant & Food Research as part of an "Unlocking Curious Minds" Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) project. The project seeks to expose students to biosecurity concepts and the dynamic nature of plant disease epidemics, taking them beyond theory and into scientific practice.

The students report some experiences:

 "We found out that myrtle rust had originated from Brazil and it's progression to moving to New Zealand was carried out by the wind. They told us about how easily the spores can spread and how effective it is. We learnt how to identify leaves because leaf identification is helpful in classifying plant varieties and their families. In our case, knowing how to identify leaves was critical to gathering information especially when we're surveying around the school and botanical gardens to see if it is susceptible to receiving myrtle rust. Over time we found out that not all plants are or can be infected by this fungal disease. We have learnt quite a lot about what to do if we have a sighting of myrtle rust or even how to act when being around it" - Olivia, Aroha, Jazhtice and Ryshani.  

Other activities include recognition of crop diseases and how these can impact on our food supply and economy. Classroom experiments and microscopical observations of fungi and bacteria on plant leaves found in the local area have been a key learning method, with students following detailed protocols.

The team is formed by Lucia Ramos, Robert Beresford, Brogan McGreal, Hone Ropata and the science teacher, Aidan Kiely. Thanks to Wara Bullôt for following us and Emma, Julia and Bec from the Auckland Botanical Gardens (Manurewa) to support student's myrtle rust surveillance.

The project is running until December 2019. Other ideas and staff to support this project are welcome!

"Mahia te mahi, hei painga mō te iwi "

("Do the work for the betterment of our people!")
*This story originally appeared on the iPlant website