Plant Innovation Centre to bolster Australia’s biosecurity

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With passenger and cargo arrivals expected to near-double by 2050, Australia is preparing for a biosecurity assault, launching an R&D facility near Melbourne’s international airport to develop innovations that safeguard plant biosecurity.

On 2 November 2017, a new Plant Innovation Centre was launched at the Mickleham Post-Entry Quarantine facility near Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport.

The purpose of the new facility, known as PIC@PEC, is to develop innovations that improve Australia’s capacity to address current and anticipated plant biosecurity risks, ensuring the nation has modern, effective plant biosecurity systems in place to combat any incursion.

“The global operating environment is changing and we expect the number of passengers, shipping and containerised cargo arrivals to nearly double by 2025,” noted Dr Marion Healy, Head of Biosecurity, Plant Division with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

“To ensure we can continue managing the risk of biosecurity pests and diseases arriving in Australia, we need to identify and apply innovative approaches to our work ... this new centre will help strengthen our biosecurity system to safeguard our environment and $60 billion agriculture industries from biosecurity risks,” Dr Healy said.

Madeira vine infestation on Bat Island, Bellingen: aggressive introduced species such as this, a restricted invasive plant under the Biosecurity Act 2014, cost millions in sugarcane crop damage and environmental cleanup.
Madeira vine infestation on Bat Island, Bellingen: aggressive introduced species such as this, a restricted invasive plant under the Biosecurity Act 2014, cost millions in sugarcane crop damage and environmental cleanup.
Pip Wilson, Flickr CC
PIC@PEQ, she explained, “will progress a range of projects focused on improving Australia’s plant biosecurity measures into the future”, including investigating:
  • mobile applications enabling front-line inspectors to conduct on-the-spot plant diagnostics;
  • more efficient and effective diagnostic platforms, such as ‘next-generation sequencing’;
  • improved treatments “to help us manage some of the most significant plant pests for Australia, including Xylella Fastidiosa, which is our number one priority plant pest”.

The centre’s research team will consist of a steering board, which will determine ‘priority operational projects’ based on key operational challenges, and departmental scientists, who’ll collaborate with various external scientists and biosecurity stakeholders to deliver on the agreed projects. 

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