Opening of Bio-NMR Facility, Massey University, Palmerston North

  • Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Thank you for the invitation to speak at this significant event for Massey University – the launch of the new Bio-NMR facility, housing New Zealand’s first high-field BioNMR spectrometer.

This instrument represents a very significant investment in New Zealand’s research infrastructure. It will have a wide ranging impact on many areas of science, particularly in areas where understanding the structure of large molecules, and also their interaction with smaller molecules, is significant– such as in health, food and materials sciences, and evolution.

Researchers will be able to use the NMR instrument as a tool to help understand mechanisms common to viruses which include polio, foot and mouth, SARS, and many strains of the common cold.

It is one of the tools which will allow biochemists to research the molecules to build new organic superglues, disease treatments, and food flavourings.

It will allow researchers looking at insulin resistance and diabetes to analyse muscle lipids.

I am pleased to see such significant investment in our bio-technology capacity. In 2002, in the Growth and Innovation Framework, the government identified biotechnology as a critical enabling sector for the economy.

Biotechnology is central to the economic transformation our country is undergoing to lift our capacity for sustainable growth and our living standards. That transformation is occurring because of the value we can add to what we produce through the application of knowledge and new technology.

New Zealand’s primary sectors, for example, have long been competitive producers of commodities. Biotechnology and other sciences can not only help us develop more efficient production; they will also lead to the discovery of new foods and products, new pharmaceuticals, and other products.

The government strongly believes in the power of science to drive New Zealand’s development. That is why we backed the recommendations arising from the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. We know that New Zealand cannot turn its back on the potential benefits of scientific discovery. That is why we have increased science funding by around 45 per cent over our last five budgets, and we acknowledge that New Zealand public and private science funding overall still needs a substantial boost.

Also critical is the development of closer links between industry, researchers, and education. I am pleased that Massey has recently been awarded $400,000 in a pilot initiative of the Tertiary Education Commission to develop industry training within the biotechnology sector. A team from Massey will work with industry to identify and then provide specialist training, with the specific objective being to strengthen the capabilities of our biotechnology sector.

Massey’s investment in the NMR has spin-offs throughout the New Zealand biotechnology community. Not only will a broad range of research groups at Massey be using the 700 MHz machine. It will also be used by researchers from Crown Research Institutes, other universities, and private research organisations.

This will strengthen Massey’s existing collaboration with the Fonterra Research Centre and with the MacDiarmid Institute of Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology. Better collaboration within our research community is a trend the government is keen to encourage.

In New Zealand, we are also increasingly recognising the importance of global linkages for research. Massey University’s support for New Zealand’s participation in the Australian synchrotron project was most welcome. I understand that this is complementary to the NMR facilities and will support the Institute of Fundamental Sciences here at Massey.

Having the NMR in New Zealand means that our researchers will no longer need to travel overseas to use such facilities. I’m told that previously Massey researchers went to the University of Edinburgh, with stays often of several months. Having the facility here clearly allows for a more efficient use of researchers’ time.

And having a world class facility like this also enhances Massey’s ability to attract and retain leading researchers in biophysics and molecular biology.

An investment of this size, $3.3 million, to purchase equipment of this sophistication requires vision, commitment and planning. I acknowledge all those involved in this project for recognising the importance of the investment.

It is the research excellence of Professors David Parry, Geoff Jameson, and their team members which justifies the University making the investment. I take this opportunity to congratulate Professor Parry on his recent University Research Medal, and Professor Jameson on his SGS Prize of Excellence from the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry.

Once again, thank you for inviting me here today to be part of this important event for New Zealand’s scientific and research community.

I now officially declare the Massey University bio-NMR facility open.