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Virtual ADSW enhances value for network members

A record number of Plant Surveillance Network Australasia-Pacific (PSNAP) and National Plant Biosecurity Diagnostics Network (NPBDN) members registered to attend the Virtual ADSW 2024 that was held on Wednesday, 5 June 2024.

323 NPBDN and PSNAP members from across the Australasia-Pacific region registered to attend the two-and a-half-hour online event in what was a great opportunity for engaged surveillance and diagnostic professionals to present and discuss topical issues in the plant biosecurity space.

The members-only online event was delivered in two sessions, the first focusing on surveillance and the second on diagnostics. Highlights of the Virtual ADSW 2024 included:

  • the delivery of 11 presentations in the program by surveillance practitioners and diagnostics experts across Australia
  • three presentations delivered by invited speakers, including:
  • Jane Royer (DAFF) speaking about the “Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS) initiatives and prioritization approaches”
  • Bill Crowe (DAFF) who addressed the topic of “Significant plant health border biosecurity detections”
  • Paul Campbell (QDAF) who provided an overview of the “Vegetable Industry Biosecurity and Business Continuity” project and its proposed activities
  • a record number of 323 registrations to attend Virtual ADSW 2024, with 232 people attending Session one and 209 people attending Session two of the workshop.

Session one: Surveillance

Session One consisted of six presentations that focussed on plant pest surveillance and biosecurity. The session commenced with a welcome from workshop Chair Callum Fletcher, Manager – Biosecurity at the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and coordinator of the Plant Surveillance Network Working Group (PSNWG).  Following is an overview of the presentations.

 Jane Royer, Director of the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS)

NAQS conducts surveillance for the early detection of pests, diseases and weeds, monitoring both regulated and “unregulated” pathways such as monsoonal winds, cyclones and illegal movements. There are currently 200 plant pests, diseases and weeds on the NAQS target list, with the list reviewed annually to add emerging pests.

With a vast 10,000km coastline in close proximity to south-east Asia and Pacific islands in the Torres Strait that can act as biological stepping stones, the NT is vulnerable to biosecurity threats. To aid in early detection of exotic pests in these areas, 20 NAQS scientists survey the area between Broome and Cairns. The coastline is divided into 40 areas with risk-ratings based upon pathways, hosts, wind patterns, human population and incursion history. As large areas of land in the NT are under native title, Jane expressed/emphasised the importance of indigenous rangers and introduced DAFF’s Indigenous Biosecurity Ranger Program, consisting of 65 Indigenous Ranger Groups and provide access to traditionally owned lands and facilitate plant host mapping and survey preparation.

NAQS is also involved in the Torres Strait Exotic fruit fly eradication program, which has run since 1996. In collaboration with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF), the nationally cost-shared program monitors annual incursions of exotic fruit flies from Papua New Guinea, and includes species such as the oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis). Fruit fly numbers have more than doubled in the last year, with over 1,700 detections in 2023.

Jane also introduced the Northern Australian Biosecurity Strategy (NABS) and one of its projects, the Swoop Aero Drone trail in the Torres Strait, which uses drones to deliver fruit fly samples that are collected across the Torres Strait Islands. Drones are cheaper and faster than helicopters and planes, are easy to use with minimal training required, and which have a 175km range, 3kg payload and 120km per hour cruising speed. Together, this means more rapid detection and higher likelihood of eradication.

Bill Crowe, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) Director: Senior Principal Entomologist

Bill Crowe presented significant plant health border biosecurity detections and emerging pathways.

Within DAFF’s Operations Science and Surveillance national network, Bill manages 120 staff in 9 laboratories located in major ports. Bill mentioned that his entomology team is likely the largest cohort of entomologists in Australia, who conduct morphological and molecular diagnostics with 48,000 identifications per annum. The plant pathology and botany team conducts microbial culturing, serological, indicator-plant and molecular diagnostics and has 10,000 border identifications from roughly 19,000 tests per annum. The surveillance team conducts pest, disease and weed surveillance, detection and response around biosecurity entry points and has 25,000 invertebrate identifications per annum.

Between 1 January 2023 and 16 May 2024, there were 49 fresh produce pest interceptions, 33 stored product pest interceptions, 75 timber pest interceptions, 208 Hitchhiker pest interceptions, and 23 vertebrate and animal health pest interceptions.

“Cut flowers has been a very risky pathway and, subsequently, processes have been implemented over the past few years to minimise this threat. Hitchhiker pests are an emerging risk since 2014 with brown marmorated stink bug being found on cars – the more we look the more we find. We’re finding cars are picking up more snails and seeds as producers are increasingly storing them in paddocks near ports.”

Antonette Walford, Agriculture Victoria Project Officer: Entomology

Antonette Walford presented on her PSNAP Residential that took her through the UK, Wales, Germany and Italy in April and May this year. The objective of her Residential was to build capability in exotic, invasive snails to support early detection and ongoing emergency responses for snail incursions, and to observe and collect exotic invasive snails, brown marmorated stink bug, spotted wing drosophila and harlequin lady beetle specimens for the National and Victorian reference collections and DNA databases.

During her Residential, Antonette successfully collected 35 species of live snails and slugs for molecular barcoding and 11 species of snail shells. Additionally, Antonette made some important international connections through attending events and networking, which she mentioned imperative to biosecurity work being done in Australia.

Mumta Chhetri, University of Sydney’s Plant Breeding Institute (PBI) Cereal rust pathologist and geneticist

Mumta Chhetri presented on the emerging threat of an exotic incursion of the barley leaf rust pathogen Puccinia hordei. Detections of fungicide resistance and insensitivity in this pathogen has been increasing and there is growing global concern due to increased fungicide use worldwide.

In her presentation, Mumta showed that the studied barley leaf rust pathotypes in Australia were found to be insensitive to nine demethylation inhibitors (DMI) fungicides and belong to an exotic lineage that was first detected in Western Australia in 2001. Since then, the incursion of the fungicide-resistant lineage is commonly found in all barley growing regions of Australia. The results of the study have been used to help inform growers on the fungicides and their effective field rates to control this pathogen in light of their fungicide resistance and insensitivities.

Frank Bedon, Molecular Research Scientist at DAFF’s Plant Innovation Centre in Victoria

Frank spoke about the use of CRISPR/Cas technology for the rapid detection of Citrus Tristeza Virus (CTV), an economically important disease that is found worldwide.

The citrus industry is Australia’s largest fruit export market, valued in 2018-2019 at $783 million, and in 2019 was the world’s 10th largest citrus export and largest source of orange export to ASEAN countries.

CTV ranges from mild to severe and destructive strains, some of which are found in Australia. Using CRISPR/Cas13 technology it is possible to increase the number of strains captured in a single assay, and field-deploy the assay, enabling rapid detection in 10-30 minutes. Frank described how this technology has the potential to improve preparedness for exotic incursions, helps map the infected/uninfected geographical locations, and will aid in faster recovery from incursions as it offers a faster, cheaper and more efficient approach to surveillance.

Dr Haikou Wang, Australian Plague Locust Commission (APLC) Forecasting and Information Officer

The Plague Locust surveillance operations area comprises two million square kilometres extending to South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland, with the objective to assess population structure, abundance and distribution and track population development and movement. The APLC uses ground and aerial surveillance to track locust populations and employs traps and movement detectors to help monitor the swarms. In his presentation, Dr Haikou demonstrated how the APLC is able to forecast long-term trends, develop models for mid-term development and predict short-term distribution and migration warnings based on the observations made in their surveillance and trapping.

Session two: Diagnostics

Session Two commenced with an introduction from Cathy Todd, Senior Researcher at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and Coordinator of the Network Implementation Working Group. Following is an overview of the diagnostic speaker’s presentations.

Paul Campbell, Principal Plant Pathologist at Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF)

Paul Campbell introduced the Vegetable Industry Biosecurity and Business Continuity Project which aims to provide a better biosecurity framework for the vegetable industry.

“The Vegetable Industry Biosecurity and Business Continuity Project will strengthen diagnostic and surveillance capabilities by delivering approximately 12 national surveillance protocols (NSPs) and ten national diagnostic protocols (NDPs) for high-priority pests affecting the vegetable industry.”

Three NDPs for vegetable targets have been endorsed, and include those for Zebra chip, Potato spindle tuber viroid, and American serpentine leafminer. Several other NDPs are under development or in the process of review and verification, and one NDP for exotic tospoviruses is proposed. If you would like to help develop an NDP please contact Paul Campbell.

Sumit Chahal, Research Scientist at Agriculture Victoria’s Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action

Sumit Chahal presented her NPBDN Residential Using MALDI-TOF for bacterial identification.

Sumit described the general concept of Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization (MALDI)-Time of Flight (TOF) and how it is used in the identification of bacteria. Sumit mentioned that the main advantage of MALDI-ToF was the speed and throughput by which samples can be profiled. Sumit further provided examples of sample preparation and how to interpret results based on the learnings she gained during her residential visit at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute (EMAI), New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI).

“Participating in the NPBDN residential program helped me develop new skills, such as a working understanding of MALDI and Agrobacterium identification assays, and provided me with valuable networking opportunities.”

Dr Sonu Yadav, Northern Territory Government Principal Molecular Scientist

Dr Sonu Yadav spoke about building contemporary molecular diagnostic capability in Northern Australia, an area that is a high-risk zone for environmental and plant biosecurity.

Dr Yadav described how surveillance and early detection of pests in Northern Australia can be difficult due to its remoteness and mentioned that identifying plant pathogens using traditional methods can be labour intensive and time consuming. The application of molecular techniques and next generation sequencing in diagnostics was mentioned as a potential solution as they have facilitated earlier and faster detection and identification of plant pests. Sonu mentioned how the combination of eDNA sampling with next generation sequencing technology and bioinformatics tools can provide large amounts of data on biodiversity, species distribution, relative abundance and taxonomy.

Dr Yadav also presented their first steps towards building diagnostic capability in this area, including their procurement and installation of next generation sequencing equipment, followed by capacity-building and training of staff. Following a review of the Northern Territory Economic Insect Collection and database (NTEIRC) the details of 1,831 species across 14 taxa were extracted and a wish list of 726 species across 14 taxa created to form the basis of a Northern Australia DNA barcode reference library.

“To build diagnostic capabilities for northern Australia, a wish list for a species DNA barcode reference library was created and shared across various laboratories to strengthen collaboration and networking.”

Mike Hodda, Research Scientist, Project Leader at CSIRO Insect and Nematode Biosecurity

Mike Hodda introduced some useful resources for nematode triage and demonstrated how to use them in his presentation. These resources cover nematodes that are plant parasites, associates of invertebrates, vertebrate parasites, as well as free-living nematode species. He made a call for nematode specimens in the genus Meloidogyne, contact Mike Hodda for more information.

Daniel Bogema, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Senior Research Scientist

The final presentation was from Daniel Bogema who spoke about the High Throughput Sequencing (HTS) Technical Standards that were recently endorsed by Plant Health Committee.

He outlined the processes and activities associated with the development of Technical Standards and Guidelines for HTS applications to Australian biosecurity diagnostics, coordinated by the HTS Working Group (HTSWG). Daniel’s presentation explained the components of the standards and guidelines which include those for wet lab processes, dry lab data analysis, computing infrastructure, validation/verification, and reporting for the implementation of HTS in diagnostics.

The Virtual ADSW 2024 presentations and recording are now available to PSNAP members. Please log-in to the PSNAP member portal for access.

The Virtual ADSW 2024 was delivered by Plant Health Australia (PHA), with content and structure of the event led by the PSNWG and NIWG, and funded by DAFF as a part of the National Plant Biosecurity Diagnostics and Surveillance Professional Development and Protocols projects.