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Hailing from Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany, Luzie Schmid is six months into her second year of undertaking a Bachelor of Applied Sciences (Biodiversity Management). Luzie came to Aotearoa / New Zealand in 2020 to undertake this course because she liked the country, and felt this degree highlighted conservation and seemed to make the most sense and purpose for her life. She also liked Unitec because of the campus grounds, facilities and friendly staff. She had searched programmes elsewhere in Auckland and the Bay of Plenty but for her Unitec seemed ‘right’.
During her first year, Luzie was keen to help with the running of the Unitec Herbarium, a collection of 13,000 plants, fungi and lichens managed by the School of Environmental & Animal Sciences (EAS). Initially, Luzie worked on cataloguing the 500 New Zealand duplicate lichen collections gifted to the herbarium by international lichenologists Dr(s) Robert Lücking and Bibiana Moncado. Following that, Luzie applied for a summer internship working on karamu (Coprosma) leaf spot fungi with Associate Professors Dan Blanchon and Peter de Lange. For that research Luzie was tasked with collecting infected plant tissue, culturing the fungi from that tissue on agar plates, and then DNA sequencing samples of those fungi to work out their identities. The next phase of her work will be to inoculate healthy karamu plants with samples of her cultured fungi to confirm whether those samples cause leaf spotting.
During her summer work, Luzie developed a range of skills that have stood her well for her upcoming second-year studies. However, one unexpected result was her being asked to assist with the preparation of a paper on the role that honey bee’s play in moving the rust fungus Austropuccinia psidii, a fungus responsible for myrtle rust disease.
Myrtle rust is a serious fungal disease that affects plants in the myrtle family. Plants in this family include New Zealand’s native pōhutukawa, mānuka, rātā, and some common ornamental garden plants like bottlebrush and lilly pilly.
Wendy Johns, from the Friends of Oakley Creek, had noted that the planted maire tawake (Syzygium maire) trees by Te Wai Unuroa o Wairaka, were infected with myrtle rust fungus. EAS staff, and Luzie, investigated the trees and noted honey bees harvesting the yellow rust spores. Although it had been speculated that this might happen in Aotearoa / New Zealand it had yet to be observed and formally documented. As such it was agreed to write a paper on this observation for the Unitec ePress journal Perspectives in Biosecurity. Luzie helped write the paper, making sufficient contributions that her co-authors all agreed she should be senior author.
Not many aspiring scientists can claim to have published a paper at the age of 21, whilst still engaged in undertaking a undergraduate degree. Luzie is now on a roll and is working with Peter de Lange on a taxonomic revision of kahikatoa / manuka (Leptospermum scoparium).
Link to Luzie's research paper here.