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Heather Bio-control

Scotch heather was introduced between 1912 and 1922 to the central North Island with a view to establishing grouse hunting. While the grouse quickly succumbed to the area's harsh winters, the heather thrived, and is now a problem weed covering 50,000 hectares in Tongariro National Park and on nearby New Zealand army land. While the original vegetation in the area was a diverse mix of tussock and other plants, the heather out-competes other plants, creating a monoculture.

In the early 1990s Landcare Research began to investigate the possibility of biocontrol, and imported the heather beetle from Scotland. After captive breeding for several years to eliminate pathogens and parasites, heather beetles were released from 1996 onwards.

Paul Peterson from Landcare Research tells Alison Ballance the heather beetle has been slow to establish, but it finally seems to be gaining the upper hand at one site, and the researchers now have a few ideas as to why it has taken to so long for anything to happen and what they might do in future to speed things up.

Fish Leeches in Antarctica

The sea surface around Antarctica freezes each winter, and the sea water beneath the ice is almost at freezing point, about -1.9 degrees Celsius. The presence of ice crystals in the water is a potential hazard to living marine organisms such as fish, which have developed glycoprotein antifreeze to manage any ice which gets inside their body. This work has been the focus of research since the 1960s, by scientists such as Art de Vries and Clive Evans - you can listen to an earlier Our Changing World interview with Clive here.

Massey University PhD student Juergen Kolb is interested in parasitic leeches that live on fish, of which Antarctic has 21 known species. As Juergen tells Alison Ballance he is keen to find out whether fish leeches in Antarctica use antifreeze, and whether they obtain the antifreeze they need from the fish blood they ingest, or whether they produce their own antifreeze.

Martin Jetpack

Touted as the world's first practical jetpack, the Martin Jetpack is being developed in Christchurch. Constructed from carbon fibre composites, it runs on petrol with two downward pointing fans to provide lift. Weighing in at about 115 kilograms and standing at a height of 1.5 metres, it's much larger than the Bell Rocket Belt (the jetpack used in the James Bond movie Thunderball) which could only maintain flight for 26 seconds on a full tank of fuel. The Martin Jetpack has been designed to fly for at least 30 minutes.

Richard Lauder and the Martin Jet PackNamed after its inventor Glenn Martin, the Martin Jetpack was listed last year in Time Magazine's best 50 inventions. A recreation and military version is being developed, with the recreation version expected to reach speeds of about 70 km/hour, and the military version about 130 km/hour. Chief Executive Richard Lauder(pictured left with the Martin Jetpack. Image: Martin Aircraft Company) explains to Ruth Beran how the jet pack works. To see the jetpack in flight, click here.

Next Week

Fibrinogen and solving the genetic mystery of a man's blood clots, the fiftieth anniversary of the Lauder atmospheric research station, an expert in sustainable planning gives a newcomer's perspective on suburban development in Hamilton, and a student team build a solar bach for an international competition.