Ecotoxicology

Understanding and monitoring the environmental impacts of existing and new technologies is becoming an integral part of the New Zealand manufacturing environment.

Scion provides leading capabilities in environmental risk assessment relating to industrial discharges and biowastes. Our current focus is on building a critical mass of fundamental research to underpin and accelerate growth of New Zealand’s bioeconomy.

We provide national leadership in lignocellulosic biorefining and industrial biotechnology research. Our active engagement with policy makers and key stakeholders, including Māori, ensures we offer appropriate support for bioeconomy planning.

Key capabilities:

  • Flow cytometry to analyse blood samples in aquatic and terrestrial organisms
  • Gas chromatographic mass spectrometry
  • Application of molecular methods
  • Field-based approaches

Examples

Kōura model species for new tool

In the face of global environmental change and the emergence of new bioeconomy industries, freshwater invertebrate species living at the interface of the water and sediment are sensitive indicators of ecosystem pressure.

In recent years, the endemic New Zealand freshwater crayfish (Paranephrops planifrons) or Northern kōura has been lost or depleted from parts of their natural range as a direct consequence of human activity, causing significant concern to iwi, particularly Te Arawa and Tainui.

Scion research examined how the physiological processes of kōura respond to organic and selected metal contaminants, integrating field studies, molecular profiling, and novel ecotoxicological approaches using flow cytometric techniques.

The knowledge of the immune function of kōura and its response to chronic, sub-lethal environmental stress will be used to develop a predictive tool. The tool will be used to assess native aquatic species ecosystem responses to next generation contaminants from biorefineries, and to model sustainable biorefinery design.

Closing the loop – rebuilding our soils with biowastes

Sustainable waste management is a key focus of Scion’s biowastes research programme. Our work aims to characterise the environmental risks of the application of biosolids in different land-management options linking this knowledge with social, cultural and economic considerations.

A multi-disciplinary team, including Scion and other Crown Research Institutes, Universities, and rūnanga is looking at which classes of new and emerging organic contaminants are most biologically active in sewage sludge sourced from case study sites such as Kaikōura.

We are  using a range of biological and ecotoxicity tests, including measurement of the effects of biosolids on the immune responses of the earthworm (Eisenia fetida andrei), to determine the toxicity and bioavailability of contaminants and other products in treated biosolids. 

In addition, a biowaste partnership with a Māori trust will examine opportunities to develop worm farms or vermicomposting as a sustainable iwi-based waste management process near Taupo.

Vermicomposting is the breakdown of organic material through the joint action of worms and micro-organisms and is widely used overseas to process municipal sewage sludges, pulp and paper biosolids, and other biowastes.

The research is funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology’s Biowastes Programme.