The Seed - Biosecurity Innovation Hub

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Welcome to The Seed, our biosecurity innovation hub where you can learn more about exciting developments in the biosecurity space.

This initiative was an outcome of the inaugural Biosecurity Innovation Exchange 2018.

Each issue will feature stories about exciting initiatives and profiles of people who are making great strides in innovation.

You can also plant your ideas in our ideas patch and subscribe so you don’t miss out on the latest news.

Welcome to The Seed, our biosecurity innovation hub where you can learn more about exciting developments in the biosecurity space.

This initiative was an outcome of the inaugural Biosecurity Innovation Exchange 2018.

Each issue will feature stories about exciting initiatives and profiles of people who are making great strides in innovation.

You can also plant your ideas in our ideas patch and subscribe so you don’t miss out on the latest news.

  • Submit your ideas for the Biosecurity Innovation Program

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    02 Dec 2020
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    We want to hear your innovative ideas to enhance Australia’s national biosecurity system to manage emerging biosecurity challenges and risks, with new project funding now available through the Biosecurity Innovation Program 2021-22!

    The challenge

    Biosecurity protects Australian livelihoods and is vital to strengthening and supporting our environment and economy, including tourism, trade, and agriculture. It underpins many aspects of our way of life.

    The Australian biosecurity landscape is changing quickly and growing in complexity. We are operating in a 24-hour business context, facing increasing volumes of international trade. We are facing increasingly complex global supply chains and changes in the environment, including climate change.

    Globalisation, complexity of international supply chains and changes to the Australian operating environment including the COVID-19 pandemic are making biosecurity risk management more challenging.

    What we are looking for

    Industry plays an essential role in safeguarding Australia’s biosecurity. We want to collaborate with innovators from the business sector, universities, and domestic and international research entities.

    Together, we want to identify bold new ideas to support the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of Australia’s biosecurity system.


    Tell us your ideas for technologies and approaches that will contribute to a sustainable and effective national Australian biosecurity system, and ways to modernise our current biosecurity risk management practices.

    The program will provide financial support for projects that could improve:

    • biosecurity screening of goods and passengers
    • biosecurity risk detection — for example, drone surveillance, artificial intelligence, robotics, next generation sequencing and new biological controls
    • the effectiveness and efficiency of our national biosecurity system in a changing environment.

    How to get involved

    Applications for 2021-22 financial year funding round opened on 9 November 2020 with submissions closing on 12 February 2021.

    Send a short description of your idea to the Biosecurity Innovation Program team (100-300 words) and we will be in touch.

    Contact the team early so they can connect you with a project sponsor. The sponsor will champion your idea within the department and work with you to develop your project proposal, including to ensure your idea is aligned to the department’s priorities and the program objectives.

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  • eDNA project finds bad guys with the help of “The Good Guys”

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    25 Nov 2020
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    Article written by Compliance Division

    Dr. Alejandro collecting dirt samples from vaccum cleaners used by the biosecurity officers responding to the Khapra beetle detection at the Good Guys (Image Courtesy: Dr. Thomas Wallenius, DAWE).

    Earlier on The Seed, we reported on the success of using eDNA to detect fish pests in the water. This time we move our focus to land to detect the notorious Khapra beetle from dirt samples.

    World-first e-DNA detection

    Khapra beetle (Trogoderma granarium) is a listed national priority pest infecting grains, seeds, rice and dried food. It can cause huge losses to our economy if it becomes established. In August 2020, detections were made at two The Good Guys retail outlets in Canberra. This led to a rapid biosecurity eradication response by the department.

    Our own entomologist, Dr Thomas Wallenius, teamed up with Dr. Alejandro Trujillo-Gonzalez, the lead researcher in the project. Together, they examined the area for the presence of Kharpa beetle and recovered filters from vacuum cleaners used at the site.

    Khapra DNA was identified from the dirt samples taken from the vacuum cleaners, a world first detection using eDNA in biosecurity. The real-time detection was made in under 90 minutes and then validated using the Biomeme Franklin Thermocycler, a portable device that is being tested in the project.

    Dr. Uday Divi , one of the project leaders at DAWE, said ‘This is a breakthrough in developing a targeted, portable, cheap and accurate tool for biosecurity officers. It allows them to detect a range of high risk pests, diseases and invasive species that could be entering the country’.

    Further applications

    While the quest continues for the application of eDNA across a range of biosecurity pest and disease pathways. The enormous potential for the technology across a variety of applications including environment and biodiversity assessments has been realised.

    Some of the current project priorities include developing a quick and accurate test to detect exotic invasive ants, myrtle rust, and monitoring for white-nose disease in bats from soil samples. This work is being done in collaboration with the office of the Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer.

    As the project expands, more priority species including honeybees and seed viruses are expected to be added for testing with the technology. The project aims to develop a single and multi-species detection assays for faster, cheaper, and more reliable testing that can be implemented across our biosecurity system.

    Progress update

    So far, we have shown that this technology works to make rapid and accurate detections in the field. We have made immense progress, but the following questions are still being addressed:

    • Will it work?
    • Will it be more efficient?
    • Will it improve the service we offer our clients?
    • Will it be better than what we are doing now?

    Next time on The Seed, we hope to report on its application in Australian biosecurity operations such as container screening and environmental surveillance.




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  • Boosting biosecurity’s future vision

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    Industry participant wearing the Smartglasses while inspecting underneath a container during a rural tailgate inspection with an Inspection Services officer onsiteImage captionArticle written by Compliance Division

    New technology could allow rural tailgate inspections and audits to be conducted remotely.

    Smartglasses technology is being tested to see if it is capable of showing biosecurity contaminants. Particularly in areas such as twist locks, tynes and dark crevices of the container.The pilots test the connectivity and usability of the remote technology. Also, whether they are fit for purpose.

    The Strategic Risk and Business Improvement Team's Kirsty Creek, Tony Brennan and Amy Mason are leading this work 'For the pilot in rural tailgate inspections, industry participants wore the Smartglasses device. Meanwhile, a biosecurity officer would watch the feed remotely by from their home or office’ Amy said.

    ‘During the pilot our officers directed the industry participant to different areas around the site. This was done using the device’s audio function.

    ‘We also had the ability to manage any urgent biosecurity risk matters should they have come up during the activity.

    These types of trials and innovation projects help us to redefine how we use our eyes on the ground to enable us to work differently and efficiently. 'They also help address some of our pressing challenges such as increasing trade volumes and the growing spread of diseases,’ Amy said. 'The main focus of these pilots is to test the concept’s applicability to remote inspections and audits. Also to extend into other areas where we could really start to see more benefits.’


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  • X-ray vision – an innovative superpower in the biosecurity battle

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    Written by Biosecurity Operation division

    We are proud to report that our 3D x-ray algorithm project has won Australia’s 2020 Public Sector Innovation Award in the digital and data category.

    This ground-breaking trial using 3D x-ray technology helped develop the world’s first algorithm to detect biosecurity risk.

    The project began as a proof-of concept trial to try and detect fruit in luggage using algorithms. The technology is now deployed at the Melbourne Airport and Melbourne Gateway Facility.

    Since then, continued work means the algorithm can now automatically detect fruit, meat and seafood.

    The award judges commented that this was an interesting and unique project that was extremely important for our country. It was evident that it addressed a significant challenge in protecting Australia’s borders, and had a clear and measurable impact.

    The socially-distanced award ceremony was held at Questacon in Canberra. The project director, Jessica Mitchell, accepted the award on behalf of the team.

    Ms Mitchell thanked the team for their endless enthusiasm and hard work. She also thanked department executives who were willing to support the innovative project.

    ‘I am really proud of the work we have been able to achieve in 18 months, and excited to see where it goes in the future,’ Ms Mitchell said.

    This project was partially funded by the Biosecurity Innovation Program.

    Find out more about the technology.

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  • Investing in agriculture’s next generation

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    Written by Compliance division

    We’re inviting Australia’s brightest minds to apply for a grant in the 2021 Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

    10 awards of up to $22,000 will be given for new and creative research projects that help overcome industry challenges in agriculture.

    Applications are open now to young agricultural innovators, scientists and researchers between 18 and 35 years of age.

    Chief Scientist & Chief Plant Protection Officer Dr. Robyn Cleland said ”We’re happy to support the emerging careers of Australia’s young agricultural innovators“.

    The 10 award categories were developed in partnership with research and development corporations and industry associations. They are:

    • biosecurity and digital innovation
    • cotton
    • eggs and poultry (layers)
    • forest and wood products
    • grains
    • horticulture
    • meat and livestock
    • red meat processing
    • viticulture and oenology
    • wool.

    The winners will then be invited to apply for the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management’s Award. This provides additional funding for an extended research project.

    The 2020 Minister’s Award winner was Dr Meagan Craven from Deakin University. Her project investigated whether pigeon milk can combat deadly Salmonella outbreaks on Australian egg farms.

    Applications close 5pm AEST Friday 2 October 2020. Find out how to apply.

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  • Embracing technology in environmental biosecurity engagement

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    Image: Webinar 2 – It’s all about the people (August 2020)

    Written by

    In place of the biannual Environmental Biosecurity Roundtables, this year the Chief Environmental Biosecurity Office is hosting a series of webinars. They will take place from July to November 2020.

    Each webinar will focus on a different theme relating to environmental biosecurity. These themes are inclusive of attitudes and behaviours that influence biosecurity management.

    A Have Your Say page supports the webinars, with a discussion forum for participants.

    Philippe Frost, from the Environmental Biosecurity Office, said that this year the department had to think of other ways for interested stakeholders to stay connected.

    ‘With so much happening, it's important to have a space to learn and collaborate together. The webinars offer a great opportunity to continue these collaborations,’ Mr Frost said.

    ‘They’ve also helped us expand our audience this year. Stakeholders now have a new way to connect with us from around Australia.

    ‘We didn't expect such a strong uptake — the numbers are double what we would have at a roundtable meeting.

    ‘We're delighted to offer this opportunity for people to talk about environmental biosecurity,’ he said.

    The July and August webinars attracted over 150 participants. We received positive feedback from participants about the webinar format and content.

    You can register to take part in the next webinar. For recordings, slides, and related information from past webinars, visit Have Your Say.

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  • Modelling the potential spread of African swine fever

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    29 Jul 2020
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    Written by Biosecurity Animal Division

    A new animal disease planning model will strengthen Australia’s preparedness to biosecurity threats. The Australian Animal Disease spread model (AADIS) was funded by the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE) and is used to model the spread and control of a disease in a population for emergency planning.

    This national-scale modelling capability is being adapted to look at the possible impacts of African Swine Fever (ASF) where an outbreak in Australia could cost millions from economic losses. ASF poses a threat to the Australian pig industry. Recently, ASF has spread throughout Asia and has now reached Papua New Guinea.

    Sharon Roche is a veterinary officer at DAWE. She explains that AADIS is a useful tool to help understand how an exotic diseases, like ASF, may spread in Australia. ‘It can provide insights into how to control the disease’ Ms Roshe said. Once we have AADIS set up for ASF, we will be able to model potential ASF outbreaks in Australia.’

    ‘This will allow us to identify where ASF may be more likely to spread, or situations that allow spread to occur. Insights on the effectiveness of potential control programs can inform response policies.’ said Ms Roche. AADIS is an internationally recognised epidemiological model being adapted for the Australian context as part of the Biosecurity Innovation Program. This will help in our efforts to plan for possible outbreaks of animal diseases in Australia.





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  • How do you help train AI, protect Kakadu and win a prize? Now that’s innovation

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    17 Aug 2020
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    Image caption: Types of labelled imagery and use cases

    Written by Heritage, Reef and Wildlife division

    Calling on citizen scientists to help ID fish and protect the park

    Kakadu National Park has remained protected from the effects of uranium mining for more than 40 years.

    Technological advancements and safety driven innovation means we can keep better track of freshwater fish communities. This allows us to detect mining related impacts on the park. Scientists now use drones and underwater video cameras. This helps to safely conduct annual surveys of billabongs throughout the national park. The cameras allow our scientists to measure the presence and abundance of freshwater fish species. It also enables the collection of hundreds of hours of fish videography every year.

    We are now working with Microsoft engineers to develop an innovative artificial intelligence (AI) model. It will help automate the identification of fish species.

    When completed, the AI model will be able to identify and count fish from video. This will significantly increase the efficiency and accuracy in our data processing. But we need your help and are calling on the support of citizen scientists!

    In order to fully automate the process, the model needs to be trained. This is done by providing more than 100,000 annotated and labelled images of fish. If you can help with the annotations, your actions will help train artificial intelligence. There is also a prize for the participant with the highest number of labelled images!

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  • Supporting our biosecurity system to manage risk through innovation

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    03 Aug 2020
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    Written by the compliance division

    We’re proud to be able to support our biosecurity system to manage risk through innovation, and to be able to fund projects which will help us manage biosecurity risk smarter in the future.

    Two projects funded through our Biosecurity Innovation Program have been nominated for innovation awards.

    Last week the 3D x-ray technology and algorithm project was announced as one of the 12 finalists in Australia’s 2020 Public Sector Innovation Awards digital and data category. This project is a ground-breaking trial by using 3D x-ray technology and is a world first algorithm to automatically detect biosecurity risk. This is inclusive of materials including fruit, meat and seafood. This project has the potential to improve the rates of early detection of biosecurity pests and diseases. Further details can be seen on the IPAA website.


    The second nomination is the Deep Learning Artificial Intelligence used for the detection of Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) project.It has been nominated for the CSIRO 2020 Digital, National Facilities and Collections Awards under the Breakthrough Innovation category. The project is a proof of concept to determine whether a mobile phone app could be used to identify BMSB from other similar stink bugs. The app uses Microsoft Azure’s Computer Vision and the results of the feasibility study are extremely promising.

    We look forward to sharing the outcome with you shortly.

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  • The power of new diagnostics to enable faster identification of biosecurity threats

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    13 Jul 2020



    Written by compliance division

    Having ready access to diagnostic capability is of critical importance to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, particularly when dealing with emerging pests and diseases of biosecurity concern. Historically we’ve relied on external providers to develop diagnostic tests. In many cases, this has delayed our ability to perform the required tests in response to new biosecurity threats.

    This project is building an in-house diagnostic capability to develop and validate new molecular technologies. Which means we will be more agile in our ability to prepare and respond to emerging threats.

    ‘We have successfully established a brand new, cutting-edge molecular diagnostic development laboratory within the PIC@PEQ team based at PEQ Mickleham. Using an important family of plant viruses called Begomoviruses as a test-case, we are now close to finalising significantly improved diagnostic tools to detect these viruses in plant hosts. This advancement benefits not just the department, but also colleagues in state government and international jurisdictions said Mark Whattam, Director of PIC@PEQ.

    PIQ@PEQ is continuing to enhance their diagnostic development capability which will further enhance the department’s ability to respond efficiently to new and emerging biosecurity threats.

    Funded by the Biosecurity Innovation Program.

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