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Volume 77, 1948-49
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Microbiology In New Zealand.

Until. recently microbiology, as such, has not formed part of New Zealand's scientific effort. In the past, the microbiological work that has been carried out has been in the nature of specialised bacteriology or mycology applied to particular problems in particular industries. Medical, veterinary and dairy bacteriologists have practised in their respective fields, while mycology has been the province of the plant pathologist. Generally the emphasis has been on the parasite and pathogen rather than the saprophyte. This policy has no doubt served New Zealand well, but the growing importance of general microbiology, both from the fundamental and practical points of view, has shown it to be inadequate for present conditions.

New Zealand has a small population, but a high standard of living and a high per capita production level. Its great exportable surplus of primary produce and its local secondary industries necessitated by its isolated position place demands on its scientific services out of all proportion to its population. The need for general microbiological work suited to New Zealand's needs is apparent and this gap in our scientific plan is now being bridged.

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Antibiotics. A small unit has recently been established for work in antibiotics. The unit is equipped for research and for production of antibiotics for experimental purposes on a pilot-plant scale.

On the research side it is clear that New Zealand's effort cannot be great, but it can perform a useful service and by investigating New Zealand's indigenous flora for new antibiotic substances may contribute something of value to the general pool of scientic knowledge.

The general programme is as follows:—


To hold a watching brief on world research in antibiotics so that new knowledge and new discoveries with applications in New Zealand can be made use of with the least possible delay.


To carry out laboratory fermentations and produce antibiotics which, although they may have been discarded as chemotherapeutants for human use, may yet be useful against animal or plant diseases.


To provide an assay and testing service for these and for such new antibiotics as may be discovered, using as test organisms human, animal and plant pathogens, especially those of interest to New Zealand.


To conduct a systematic search for new antibiotics from the micro-and macro-flora of New Zealand. New Zealand's geographical isolation has given her a remarkable indigenous flora and it is not unreason able to expect that her isolation and peculiar climatic conditions have produced local strains and varieties that may yield new antibiotics.


Pilot-plant production will provide user organisations such as the Animal, Plant or Medical Research Stations with antibiotics in sufficient quantities for sound experimental work. Full co-operation with these organisations is an essential part of the scheme. The necessity for team work is fully realised, but clearly a complete team on antibiotic work would not be justified in so small a country as New Zealand. It is believed, however, that with the co-operation of the existing research organisations there will be, in effect, not an isolated group working in antibiotics, but a complete team.

It is clear that this work on antibiotics must be regarded as a useful preliminary to the development of the larger field of general microbiology.

General Microbiology. 1. The type of microbiological work required in New Zealand is governed largely by local conditions. Much of it will be in the nature of servicing local industry and translating overseas results to suit New Zealand's conditions and requirements, but certain long-term fundamental work may be justified.


Industrial spoilage through the action of micro-organisms is consider able. The processing, transport and storage of perishable goods in a sparsely-populated country consisting of two long and narrow islands, with a wide range of climatic conditions, but in general involving high humidities, present many spoilage problems.

The industrial structure of New Zealand is characterised by its basic primary industries together with a rapidly expanding group of secondary industries. Most of these local secondary industries operate in small, widely dispersed units usually too small and too scattered to have their own research organisations or even to employ scientific labour to any extent. The few scientists employed are chemists who must grapple with microbiological problems as best they can. This situation is likely to remain and there is need for the University to provide courses in microbiology, particularly for chemists intending to enter Industry.

While liaison between Science and Industry has recently been improved by the establishment of the Manufacturers' Research Association, there is as yet no organisation able to supply the microbiological services that Industry requires.


At present the major industries are well catered for by their own research stations. Wool and leather have special research organisations, but do little microbiological work, while the meat industry relies on overseas research entirely. It is the smaller industries, local food stuffs, canning,

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curing, etc., that require some general microbiological service. There are also certain local problems in areas of high humidity such as the deterioration of paint, instruments and building materials.


Apart from cheesemaking, New Zealand is interested in four types of industrial fermentation—brewing, wine making, retting and silage making. The complexities of natural fermentations really demand long-term team work which would not be justified in New Zealand, but some microbiological work relating overseas knowledge and methods to local conditions would be of great value.


New Zealand's prosperity is ultimately based on the soil. At present little if anything is known of the micro-flora of New Zealand soils and this is a most serious omission in our scientific plan. New Zealand possesses certain advantages for the study of soil microbiology—virgin land untouched by man lies adjacent to cultivated soils—and a long-term policy might well yield results of value.


In general microbiology has been neglected in the past both by the University and the research stations. The establishment of a unit for research in antibiotics with special reference to animal and plant diseases, is an important step towards making good this deficiency. More microbiological work, however, is still required, particularly for servicing the smaller industries and relating overseas research to local problems.