Scientists team up with school kids to unlock secrets of the manuka tree

Scientists are teaming up with school kids to unlock the secrets of one of our most treasured plants - manuka.

Dave Warren, a professor at the University of Otago and one of the project's co-leaders, says the students' help will help provide new scientific knowledge.

"Scientists have known there may be some active chemicals in there, but we need to know more if we're going to take the science further, so this is really finding what is in the leaves because we don't really know," Professor Warren said.

As part of a nationwide study, intermediate pupils from 30 schools across the country have been called in to help the experts with their work.

First, the students pick manuka branches before drying them out, grinding the leaves and producing an extract.

The finished product is then tested to see how well seeds grow in it.

"We sellotape the box up and we wait for them to grow, and see how well they grow compared with the water," one student explained.

The samples are then taken to a lab at the University of Otago, with results showing the humble manukau leaf could be a game-changer.

Elaine Burgess, a scientist at Plant and Food Research and co-leader of the research, says interest in manuka is growing as it's known to have some "herbicidal activity".

"What we're hoping could come out of it is there would be a natural herbicide put on the market without having any chemical side-effects," Ms Burgess said.

"The leaves drop on the ground, and then it stops the weeds from growing. It's like weed killer," another student said.

The research has led to discoveries which could see the value of manuka grow. Source: 1 NEWS