Horticulture growers will benefit from faster access to new plant stock through next-generation genetic sequencing technology designed to reduce port of entry quarantine delays by more than two years.
The project, funded by Hort Innovation and facilitated by the Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative (PBRI), is being led by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), drawing in expertise from the Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries.
QUT project lead, Associate Professor Roberto Barrero, said the project looked at optimising the next-generation sequencing technologies for screening pathogens in a range of crops – starting with grapes, citrus fruits, berries and potatoes.
“At the moment the traditional biological testing platforms used for screening imported plant species are resource-intensive, time-consuming, and may produce ambiguous results,” he said.
“Imported plants can spend up to three years undergoing pathogen testing, potentially impacting the ability of agricultural industries to access new crop varieties and adapt quickly to global market opportunities.
“Next generation sequencing technologies offer a faster, more reliable and cost-effective way to identify all known plant pathogens without having to run numerous tests.
"These technologies are capable of sequencing multiple DNA molecules in parallel, enabling hundreds of millions of DNA molecules to be sequenced at a time.
“This project will assess the robustness, accuracy and reliability of these methods compared to existing testing protocols.”
Hort Innovation Research and Development Manager Dr Penny Measham said reducing the time that imported plants spend in Australia’s quarantine system has a direct benefit for growers.
“Rapid and safe access to new plant genetic stocks, supported by appropriate policy, is crucial for primary industries to remain productive, profitable, sustainable and internationally competitive,” she said.
"Next Generation Sequencing offers a fast, reliable and cost-effective method to identify all known plant pathogens in a single test with the potential to reduce quarantine periods from three years to around six-12 months.
"This will enable our growers to stay abreast of current trends and improve their competitive edge."
The research team will work closely with quarantine agencies in Australia and New Zealand and policy groups to develop operating procedures and a quality assurance program for next-generation sequencing testing.
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