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  • New Zealand's Biological Heritage – Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho (BioHeritage Challenge) is one of the 11 National Science Challenges created by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in 2014 to tackle some of the country’s most important research problems

    Rights: New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge

    Ngā Rākau Taketake ­– Saving our Iconic Trees

    Aotearoa New Zealand’s iconic native species are threatened by kauri dieback and myrtle rust. This BioHeritage Challenge project seeks to safeguard kauri and myrtle species.

    The mission

    The mission of the BioHeritage Challenge is to protect and manage our current biodiversity and improve our biosecurity systems. Through national partnerships, the BioHeritage Challenge aims to deliver a step change in research innovation through use of globally leading technologies and community and sector action. The main objective of the Challenge is to enhance our resilience to global threats and pressures.

    The complex problem

    Currently, our biological heritage is under threat, which includes declining biodiversity, increasing pressures on our biosecurity system and changing environmental states. Issues such as use of outdated technology, critical knowledge gaps and lack of public awareness due to the poor links between science and action make this problem complex.

    We feel confident that together we will make great advances on a mission that’s so important for every New Zealander: to reverse the decline of Aotearoa’s biological heritage through a national partnership that delivers significant changes in research innovation, world-leading technologies, and community and sector action.

    New Zealand's Biological Heritage – Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho

    Finding solutions

    To solve this problem, the BioHeritage Challenge is undertaking research to better understand the threats and applying new approaches that are effective in protecting our biological heritage. While the BioHeritage Challenge is a science initiative, it places a great emphasis on people in terms of collaboration and communication. Partnerships with researchers, technologists, innovators, roopu Māori, government agencies, industry and the public are important to co-design solutions and to maximise adoption to deliver national benefits. Communicators help to create practical value from the knowledge and technologies generated from research by sharing it with communities, including leading public conversations on difficult topics.

    Rights: New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge

    New Zealand's Biological Heritage – an innovative approach

    A visual representation of New Zealand’s innovation system. The approach interweaves knowledge systems and allows for contributions from individuals and institutions.

    Prioritisation of Māori partnerships and integration of mātauranga Māori

    Throughout the BioHeritage Challenge, Māori have been prioritised into leadership positions and within advisory groups to be part of the decision-making processes. The BioHeritage Challenge is led by Melanie Mark-Shadbolt (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Ngāti Porou, Te Arawa, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Ātiawa) as the Co-Director Māori alongside Co-Director Daniel Patrick – these roles have been previously held by Professor Shaun Ogilvie (Te Arawa, Ngāti Awa) and Dr Andrea Byrom. The BioHeritage Challenge recognises the distinct value of mātauranga Māori and how it can enrich research as some projects have been embedded in it.

    Within the Challenge are 16 multidisciplinary research programmes focusing on different topics, which are further structured into three different themes.

    Programme themes

    Whakamana – Empower

    Whakamana is about protecting our precious environment. For example, Eco-index is a tool to understand and assess our changing biological heritage. Co-led by Dr John Reid (Ngāti Pikiao, Tainui) and Dr Kiri Joy Wallace, the aim is to indicate our country’s biodiversity performance by identifying the best investment opportunities for reversing biodiversity decline.

    Rights: Georgia Wells, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

    Native biodiversity of Aotearoa

    The artist Georgia Wells created this illustration to help the BioHeritage Challenge explain their mahi under the Whakamana – Empower theme.

    The image is free to download for teacher, education and research endeavours. It is licensed under a creative commons licence.

    Whakahou – Restore

    Whakahou is about creating a resilient, thriving environment. Policy and governance are seen as a key component for protecting our natural and production ecosystems by building new systems, policies and capability. The Adaptive Governance and Policy team co-led by Professor Maria Bargh (Te Arawa, Ngāti Awa) and Dr Carwyn Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu) are working on new ways to build relationships based on te Tiriti and identifying opportunities for redistributing authority through co-design of policy and co-governance of natural resources.

    Tiaki – Protect

    Tiaki is about biosecurity – for example, creating a better biosecurity network by deploying novel tools and strategies to deal with invertebrate pests. This project – co-led by Dr Phil Lester, Dr Ocean Mercier (Ngāti Porou) and Symon Palmer (Ngāi Te Rangi) – combines social science and molecular innovation to effectively tackle honey bee threats such as wasps and varroa mites. Many of the current pest control strategies have damaging effects on the surrounding environment. The Novel Tools and Strategies – Invertebrates team aims to develop a new, landscape-scale, invertebrate pest management tool. While working towards this goal, they are engaging with iwi and hapū to understand how new pest control tools can promote rangatiratanga and understand invertebrate control issues among Māori. One novel tool that has been proposed as an alternative – as it could be publicly accepted and used in society – is called RNA interference (RNAi).

    Nature of science

    The BioHeritage Challenge recognises that gene technologies may potentially be useful for the eradication of pests in New Zealand. However, a great deal of research and understanding, as well as public acceptance, is required before such technologies could be implemented. Science plays multiple roles in this process: building knowledge, addressing societal issues and concerns and informing policy.

    Related content

    Read about New Zealand’s National Science Challenges.

    These articles provide more information about biodiversity and biosecurity.

    The article Impacts of biotechnology on society explores some of the societal concerns and issues mentioned in this article.

    The BioHeritage Challenge does not directly invest in gene editing research, but it aims to position New Zealand researchers for potential future involvement in synthetic biology research, including gene technologies. Two areas of interest are varroa mites and myrtle rust.

    Novel biotechnologies that involve genetic techologies are often socio-scientific issues. This context for learning curates Hub resources on RNAi and provides pedagogical suggestions.

    Activity idea

    In RNAi – making science-informed responses, ākonga use a variety of resources to consider personal, societal and science perspectives and make a science-informed response to the use of RNAi as a means of pest control.

    Useful links

    Visit the New Zealand’s Biological Heritage – Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho website:


    This article was written by Tere Porter-Rawiri (Te Ātiawa, Taranaki, Ngāti Mutunga).

    Rights: New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge

    New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge

    The BioHeritage Challenge is one of 11 National Science Challenges funded by MBIE.

      Published 12 September 2023 Referencing Hub articles
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