New alliance strengthens biosecurity research

The NSW Centre for Animal and Plant Biosecurity, creating a formal link between the two institutions, was launched on March 24 by the NSW Primary Industries Minister, Ian Macdonald, and University of Sydney Pro-Vice Chancellor, Professor Beryl Hesketh.

The Centre links complementary facilities and staff, and has a strong focus on developing and applying new technologies for diagnosis, surveillance, prevention and control of serious diseases and pests of animals and plants.

DPI Director of Health Sciences and Strategic Alliances, Ms Helen Scott-Orr, said the critical mass created by the NSW Centre would build 'a unique national capability' and also support the next generation of students coming through the University of Sydney.

Three main sites are involved:

  • The Plant Breeding Institute at Cobbitty, which is part of the University’s Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (55 staff),
  • The University’s Faculty of Veterinary Science (77 staff based at Camden), and
  • DPI’s Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute at Menangle (220 staff).

Ms Scott-Orr said there are tremendous gains to be made from the three locations being more closely linked.

'The University is planning to bring its plant and animal health diagnostic and research functions together in a new site at Camden.

'Through this new alliance, new capital investment at that site can complement what exists or is planned for EMAI.

'Collaborative projects will use infrastructure at whichever sites are appropriate.

'The three sites will also be linked by high speed broadband to the Greater Sydney IT network, ensuring speedy access to the specialised supercomputing, genomics and proteomics services so critical for advanced biotechnology.'

Research currently undertaken at the three sites is focused on protecting our livestock, aquatic and plant industries from diseases and pests to safeguard our economy, environment and human health. The formal alliance between the three sites will further enhance this research.

Key research areas for the Centre include animal diseases of importance to humans such as Avian Influenza and projects on food-borne pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella.

Research into avian species includes surveillance of wild birds for Avian Influenza and West Nile Virus, ensuring domestic poultry are free from Avian Influenza and Newcastle Disease, and rapid high-throughput diagnosis for disease screening.

In the pig industry collaborative projects are underway to reduce antibiotic usage by integrated management of disease, to develop new vaccines and diagnostic tests, to detect and control new viral diseases of pigs and to investigate the real time effects of disease and genetics on pig growth and welfare.

Aquatic animal health, a research area regarded as seriously under-resourced, will include research into QX disease in Sydney rock oysters, keeping hatchery fish free from disease, and detection and control of Nodavirus in Australian Bass.

In the area of horticulture, researchers will monitor incursions of exotic pests and diseases such as fire blight (apples/pears), papaya fruit fly (many hosts), citrus canker (citrus and some relatives) and black sigatoka (bananas).

They will also locally evaluate diagnostic protocols developed overseas against native micro-organisms, monitor insect vectors of viral diseases, and develop integrated pest management programs for major pests such as Western Flower Thrips.