Four Ngāti Porou people participated this year in the week-long Summer internship for Indigenous peoples in Genomics - SING. The substantial advances in this field and the increasing focus on Māori populations and indigenous species have highlighted the urgent need for Māori to engage and understand enough about the technical, ethical and cultural issues that are being raised. SING is an initiative that emerged from the Te Waka O Tama - a recent project and is now a key activity within Genomics Aotearoa. SING is run by Assoc Prof Maui Hudson, Dr Phil Wilcox and Katharina Ruckstuhl, and is designed to develop our understanding of genomics alongside some of the best researchers in New Zealand.
Indigenous Genomics Aotearoa is a network of Māori with expertise across the fields of genomics, informatics technology, business and environmental stewardship. The network is being developed as part of a Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund project led by the University of Waikato, The University of Auckland, and the University of Otago with support from Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Māori Centre of Research Excellence, and two National Science Challenges (Biological Heritage and Science for Technological Innovation). Some of the topics covered in SING were: Introduction to Māori research and ethics, introduction to genetics, epigenetics, ELSI research in tribal communities, bioinformatics, Māori perspectives and gene editing. A highlight of the internship was a presentation from Dr Joseph Yracheta, a faculty mentor from SING USA, bringing his experience working with American Indian and Alaskan Native interns. Four Nāti applied for the internship and gathered for a week in late January with fourteen other Māori participants. The Nāti interns were Ben Rangihuna, Anezka Hoskins, Matiu Bartlett and Huti Puketapu-Watson.
Ben Rangihuna is from Tikitiki and is currently studying medicine at Otago University. This year he will be studying quantitative genetics alongside Dr Phil Wilcox (Rakaipaaka). Anezka is an emerging young Ngāti Porou scientist, currently completing her Master’s degree. She aims to make a significant contribution to the field of genetics, and plans to proceed to a PhD in Human Genetics and to apply for entry to one of the top five programmes in the world (in the UK, USA, or continental Europe). Matiu Bartlett is from Wairoa Hawkes Bay and moved to Gisborne 6 months ago to work at Ngāti Porou Hauora in Te Hiringa Matua which is a new parenting support service working with hapu mama who are struggling with drugs and alcohol.
Huti Puketapu-Watson, Deputy Chair of Ngāti Porou Hauora (NPH), also participated in the SING internship to help build capacity in the emerging arena of genetics given that NPH has great potential to become a leading iwi health service provider in the movement towards precision or personalised medicine. This potential has been developing through NPH’s long-standing research programme with the University of Otago research teams led by Prof Merriman and Dr Te Morenga, and our contributions to the Te Mata Ira project led by Maui Hudson to develop Māori guidelines for genomic research and bio-banking. Also as Chair of the Ngāti Porou Miere Board, Huti learnt that the Honey Landscape research currently being carried out by Ngāti Porou Miere in collaboration with other iwi & Plant and Food and Landcare, had significant relevance in the discussions because that research focuses on DNA profiling of our manuka. Dr David Chagne presented an outline of the Honey Landscape research to demonstrate what was undertaken in the process of gene research and editing.