Amy Maslen-Miller, aka The Samoan Scientist, is an Auckland University student studying a Master’s of Science. Her major is biological science. With five years of study under her belt, Amy has been able to research various issues about taro.
Her research includes characterising the genetic makeup of fungi, such as an organism called ‘phytophthora colocasiae’, the pathogen that causes taro leaf blights, and looking at the infection of the fungi like organism on various taro cultivars.
“In 1993, P.colocasiae was responsible for wiping out Samoa’s taro crop, resulting in loss of both a staple food source and a significant export for the Samoan economy,” says Amy.
By researching these fungi, Amy hopes to understand better the effect that it has on taro leaves and corn. With this knowledge, she would like to re-establish a taro export trade from Samoa to other international countries. Samoan taro is only exported to New Zealand and the USA.
Amy was given the opportunity to research this issue as part of her Master’s project. With no previous knowledge of the topic or Samoa’s agricultural industry, she has discovered a vast array of information that hopefully one day will benefit the Pacific Island communities.
New Zealand currently does not have an issue with taro leaf blight. Research has shown that there have been reports of taro leaf blight disease in West Africa and Turkey. That’s over 18,000 kms away from Samoa.
These pose interesting questions for Amy to continue her research on this issue.
Current downfalls with her research include proper analysis of the fungus. Various tests were difficult to troubleshoot but with persistence, Amy was able to gain some exciting results.
Amy hopes that her research of the taro leaf blight disease will add to the wealth of knowledge that the Pacific nations already has. By building on their knowledge, she hopes they will be more equipped with sustaining the cultural and economic significance taro has in Samoa.
To find out more information about Amy’s research, check out her Facebook page.