The science underpinning modern farming has enabled our farmers to become more efficient, and more profitable.
Take grain for example. American farmers grow over 440 million tonnes of grain each year. Australia produces about 40 million tonnes. Together that’s about one-sixth of global grain production. Good science has contributed to a tripling in grain production over the past half century.
Both nations export to the world. But whenever we store and transport grain the bugs bite. The latest collaborative research between our two nations is changing that.
Biosecurity research, training and education in Indonesia and Australia are set to benefit from a bilateral research agreement between five Indonesian research organisations and the Australian Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (PBCRC), announced in April 2016.
The first project in the partnership is the development of a virtual diagnostic network using the Pestpoint software developed by the PBCRC.
Not all honeybee species think like the common western hive bee when it comes to deciding on a place to nest. Some are capable of making faster collective decisions, according to James Makinson and his University of Sydney and Thai university colleagues.
When Australian biosecurity officers find a suspicious insect or other invasive pest, they can now quickly identify it, drawing upon experts around the world using microscopes linked via the internet.
The Remote Microscope Network (RMN), developed by the Cooperative Research Centre for National Plant Biosecurity (CRCNPB), allows the officers to examine an insect or specimen closely in real time, manipulating it under the microscope while discussing its identification with national and international experts.
The system is coupled to a comprehensive diagnostic information database, allowing comparison with images and information about the suspect.
Until now identification in the field of invasive insects and other pests has been a slow and cumbersome process. It often involved sending a sample to a capital city and waiting several weeks for results.
The RMN is used in conjunction with a Pest and Disease Image Library and a Plant Biosecurity Toolbox, which includes high quality images as well as information about pest distribution. Together they enable field officers to identify pests quickly and accurately, and respond to any threats. This could save millions of dollars in eradication costs and lost market access for Australian producers.
“We’ve added a new, innovative tool to our system which is very cost effective and efficient, and decreases the response time when dealing with potentially harmful pests and diseases,” says Dr Simon McKirdy, CEO of the CRCNPB. “Now relevant diagnostic information is available to field officers around Australia and to our near neighbours.”
Photo: The Remote Microscope Network will allow experts to ‘look over the shoulder’ of biosecurity officers and help them identity pests.
Imagine printing your own room lighting, lasers, or solar cells from inks you buy at the local newsagent. Jacek Jasieniak and colleagues at CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and the University of Padua in Italy, have developed liquid inks based on quantum dots that can be used to print such devices and in the first demonstration of their technology have produced tiny lasers. Quantum dots are made of semiconductor material grown as nanometre-sized crystals, around a millionth of a millimetre in diameter. The laser colour they produce can be selectively tuned by varying their size.
High tech cling wraps that ‘sieve out’ carbon dioxide from waste gases can help save the world, says Melbourne University chemical engineer, Colin Scholes who developed the technology. The membranes can be fitted to existing chimneys where they capture CO2 for removal and storage. Not only are the new membranes efficient, they are also relatively cheap to produce. They are already being tested on brown coal power stations in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, Colin says. “We are hoping these membranes will cut emissions from power stations by up to 90 per cent.”
Climate change will impose a complex web of threats and interactions on the plants and animals living in the ice-free areas of Antarctica.
Increased temperatures may promote growth and reproduction, but may also contribute to drought and associated effects. These scenarios are explored in a new book, Trends in Antarctic Terrestrial and Limnetic Ecosystems: Antarctica as a Global Indicator, co-edited by Australian Antarctic Division biologist, Dr. Dana Bergstrom.
Invasive ants are among the greatest environmental, social and economic threats to Australia, potentially costing the nation more than $1 billion annually. However, knowledge of the basic biology of these pest species remains rudimentary, and many management operations have been unsuccessful.
DNA barcodes could help farmers and conservationists identify wanted and unwanted grasses.
Identifying grasses is difficult especially when they’re not flowering. But identification is important. Australia’s agriculture and ecology are threatened by invading grasses, such as Chilean needle grass (Nassella neesiana) and serrated tussock (N. trichotoma). And efforts to re-introduce native grasses can be hampered if you can’t tell the grasses apart.
Every visitor to Australia quickly learns that we take quarantine seriously. Our country is free of many pests, weeds and diseases that are widespread overseas. Our relative disease-freedom is good news for our people, for agriculture and for the environment.
Visitors’ luggage is screened at the airports. But what about the two million shipping containers that enter Australia each year? How do we strike a balance between open trade and quarantine?