Printed 3D pollen grains could be the latest tool for Kiwi detectives investigating high-profile crimes.

In a breakthrough that could feature in a storyline from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, a research team from Massey University has created the world's first 3D-printed pollen grain.

Pollen forensics have solved major crimes around the world, including in New Zealand with the 2008 murder of Mallory Manning in Christchurch, where a rare mutated grass pollen found on Manning's clothing matched samples from a Mongrel Mob gang pad, where police say she was raped and brutally murdered.

Kiwi palynologist Dallas Mildenhall worked on the Manning case and more than 300 other investigations around the world.


Renowned as a global expert, Dr Mildenhall says in time, Massey's milestone could become useful to a rare type of investigation.

"For the identification of individual pollen grains, this could be important," Dr Mildenhall said.

"It would be rare for such a situation to be central to a case, but it could happen."

Combining state-of-the-art imaging with 3D printing, a trio of Massey scientists have brought microscopic detail, way beyond the naked eye, into a seeable - and even touchable - reality for the first time.

And in palynology, where pollen means much more than just the annual irritation of hayfever, the impact could be colossal.

Senior lecturer at Massey University's Institute of Agriculture and Environment, Dr Katherine Holt, says the idea of creating a 3D-printed pollen grain came to her after watching Palmerston North students struggle to identify the natural powders even with the aid of powerful microscopes.

And to Dr Holt's surprise, she was the first in the world to go ahead with the idea.

"It seemed so simple, but no one had actually ever done it before," Dr Holt told the Weekend Herald.


"Most think of pollen as an utter nuisance, but it'll blow your mind what it can be used for ..."

Technological developments over the past 60 years have brought palynology to the forefront of forensics. Austrian police have been credited with pollen's first criminal breakthrough after a 1959 investigation brought a murder suspect to justice and even uncovered the site of his victim's grave.

As well as shedding new light on fossils, natural history and climate change, "honey fraud" is an area of high importance for Kiwi industry.

New Zealand manuka honey can command prices up to 20 times higher than other types of honey because of its unique anti-bacterial properties and this nation's annual honey exports are estimated to be worth well over $100 million.

The United States and parts of Europe have previously banned honey imports from Asia over quality concerns and Dr Holt says the technology is a welcome regulation for Kiwi companies operating elite processes.

"Each plant creates a different type of pollen and in honey, each cell gets incorporated, so it's possible to work out what kinds of flowers have been used to make that honey," Dr Holt said.

"If someone's trying to sell you a fancy jar of manuka honey you can test it to see whether it does have manuka pollen, so from an industry perspective, it's a very accurate means of regulation."