A bequest by a pioneering female scientist is funding future generations of researchers and breakthrough discoveries in horticulture and other industries.

Dr Joan Dingley – a prominent scientist best known for her study of mycology, or fungi – gifted $80,000 to the Massey University Foundation upon her passing in 2008.

The Foundation received $62,000 in 2009 and $17,000 in 2010. Since then the funds have grown to $180,000 and have also paid scholarships. The Foundation established the Dr Joan Dingley Memorial Scholarship in Mycology, and has invested the original bequest to provide ongoing, additional funding for the award.

Masters student Anna MartinsonBehling received the $6000 scholarship both last year and in 2019, and says it provided vital financial security during what was a pressured time.

She had to study part-time for a period of her Masters, meaning her living costs during her study were higher than they otherwise would have been. “The biggest cost is living costs. It’s quite stressful to do a Masters degree anyway, and it’s a huge stress if you’re watching your student loan just increase. The scholarships took that worry away.”

Anna’s Masters research investigated a variety of hybrid species – fungal, animal and plant – to determine commonalities or differences in the sorts of genes that are impacted by hybridisation. Hybridisation occurs when two different species interbreed and form an entirely new species.

“The genetics of these organisms influences how they function, and how they function influences what we can use them for. The more we understand, the more we can be specific about which ones we use for particular purposes and functions.”

Anna’s research included a hybrid species of the pasture fungus Epichloë, which forms a beneficial relationship with pasture grasses and produces natural insecticides that protect the grass. “That means we don’t have to spray our pastures as much. It’s of particular interest to New Zealand and it’s really important for the agricultural industry.”

A better understanding of the behaviour of genes in hybrid species of Epichloë could lead to the identification and use of more effective fungal species in New Zealand pastures, Anna says. Her research also included hybrid fish species, which are common in the aquaculture industry.

Anna says she is humbled to have received the scholarship, and was fascinated to learn Joan’s story. “She really was a pioneer for women in science. I am lucky that I don’t face those obstacles that she did when she was a researcher. It’s been very inspiring to learn about her and her research.” Dr Dingley was one of the first female, professional horticultural scientists in New Zealand. She was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Science by Massey University in 1994, in recognition of her contribution to the study of horticulture.

Her many achievements in the field include discovering how to rot-proof canvas - an invaluable contribution to the World War Two effort in the tropical Pacific, identifying the fungus that causes facial eczema in sheep, and publishing the first list of plant diseases in New Zealand.

Anna says her next move is to Auckland to begin a PhD in Biomedical Science, with a focus on genetics. She says she is immensely grateful for the generosity of Massey scholarship donors.