DNA tests show how far rats swim

Using unique fingerprinting to study rats' movements has won an Auckland University researcher a $200,000 Prime Minister's science award.

Dr James Russell is one of three Aucklanders to win prestigious Prime Minister's MacDiarmid science prizes announced this morning. 

Russell used unique DNA fingerprinting to determine how far rats can swim or hitchhike to pest-free islands.

His work is internationally sought after and inspired a children's book by Witi Ihimaera  titled The Amazing Adventures of Razza the Rat.

Rats have invaded 80 per cent of the world's islands and contribute to the deaths of many of New Zealand's native birds.  

Their knack at learning to avoid poison and traps makes them a tricky pest to kill, Russell said.

"During the three or four years of my doctorate, we were able to use the knowledge I generated to keep islands consistently rat free."


St Cuthbert's College student Hannah Ng, 17, won the $50,000 future scientist prize.

Her four-year project on childhood myopia, or shortsightedness, looked at how the eyesight of chicks was affected when wearing goggles which blurred peripheral vision.

The project found it made them more shortsighted, something she said optometrists didn't always take into account when prescribing glasses.

"I've learned the joys of being persistent, innovative and open to new ideas," Ng said.

She worked alongside researchers at Auckland University's Myopia Laboratory after receiving a Liggins Institute mentorship programme and scholarship.


Class projects involving solar balloons, water rockets, vortex cannons and parachute launching systems scored Papatoetoe High School head of chemistry Peter Stewart the science teacher prize of $150,000.

He produced workbooks, video tutorials and assignments that lifted student achievement in chemistry to outperform other subjects.

He also devised a Maori and Pacifika mentoring programme which encouraged students to work with each other and lift their grades.

Auckland Now