Thursday, 26 July, 2012 - 15:36

As one of the three end-user partners of the Better Border Biosecurity (B3) research programme, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), formerly Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), has an important role in helping to shape priorities and ensure that research output is directed towards achieving practical and significant outcomes.

Dr Barney Stephenson, Senior Science Adviser and coordinator of MPI’s input into the B3 Collaboration, says that good progress has been made in appreciating the complex organisational and biological challenges that are involved.  The research partnership has developed a shared understanding of biosecurity, and is well-equipped to provide strategically-based research output that will help MPI address border biosecurity priority areas.

The B3 programme has assembled research expertise and facilities from four research institutes to provide answers to difficult questions.  The Collaboration includes all of the people needed to define the problems, evaluate their importance and then seek practical solutions to prevent pests from establishing in New Zealand.  As a result, the B3 partnership is working on a strategically-directed programme of research that is designed to make a...

Thursday, 28 June, 2012 - 13:39

A team of researchers led by Dr Kerry Everett at Plant and Food Research is using diagnostic markers to quickly detect horticultural diseases in New Zealand, preventing their further spread and enabling New Zealand exporters to maintain market access overseas.

Diagnostic markers are short regions of DNA that are unique to any particular bacterial or fungal pathogen.  Laboratory tests on plant samples determine if this unique region of DNA is present, which indicates whether the pathogen is present on the plant.  

Kerry’s first work on diagnostic markers for horticultural diseases began in 2002 on citrus black spot (Guignardia citricarpa), which an historical record identified in New Zealand in 1983 based on morphological evidence. However, Kerry re-examined the record and confirmed that in fact the record contained a closely related strain that is not damaging but can only be distinguished from citrus black spot using molecular techniques. This finding confirmed that citrus black spot had actually never been found in New Zealand and helped to open market access for New Zealand citrus in Europe and the United States. 

The second disease that Kerry and her team worked on was avocado scab, which is a...

Thursday, 14 June, 2012 - 14:45

Speech by Dr Stephen Goldson, Strategy Advisor to the Office of the Prime Minister’s Science Advisory Committee and the Director of the Better Border Biosecurity Collaboration to the Transit of Venus Forum Gisborne, 7 June 2012 

Thank you for this opportunity to speak at such an interesting and auspicious occasion.

A central question posed at this Transit Event is how can science and technology contribute critically to New Zealand in achieving clean and efficient industry, social cohesion and economic success?  In response to this I will say a few words about the defence of what New Zealand already is, with specific reference to its unique biodiversity and land-based industries.

This country will inevitably continue to be a trading nation and a tourist destination and with this there will be increasing volumes of freight and people crossing the border.  As a result, New Zealand faces massive and continuous risks of biosecurity failure leading to the invasion and establishment of exotic pests, weeds and diseases.  Damage from these species can occur in all ecosystems and of course, climate change is well able to make everything a whole lot worse.


Tuesday, 1 May, 2012 - 14:43

In March, Dr Richard Baker, the coordinator and science leader for a leading European biosecurity research programme known as PRATIQUE (Pest Risk Assessment Techniques), visited New Zealand to discuss the initiative he has been leading and lessons from this work that are applicable to this country.  

Dr Baker led two days of workshops, sponsored by AGMARDT, which provided an opportunity for New Zealand researchers and industry stakeholders to share information regarding updated techniques for risk assessment, access to databases and the establishment of user-friendly decision support systems. While in New Zealand, Dr Baker also visited AgResearch, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and Lincoln University to further discussions from the workshops. 

PRATIQUE was established in response to the growing threat to Europe of alien invasive species due to increasing globalisation. Its purpose was to develop more efficient risk analytical techniques for pests and pathogens of significant phytosanitary concern. The now completed project involved scientists from 15 partner institutions, 11 countries in the...

Friday, 23 March, 2012 - 08:44

If you have travelled to New Zealand from overseas, you will probably know the time and energy that border officials spend to clean footwear and other items carried by passengers. However, until recently it was unknown exactly what biosecurity hazards such footwear might be carrying and whether the cleaning methods used were in fact effective.

To help answer these questions, Better Border Biosecurity (B3) funded a research project led by Mark McNeill and involving AgResearch and Plant and Food researchers including Craig Phillips, Lee Aalders, Sandra Young and Farhat Shah. The study was initiated after discussions with Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF), including MAF staff at Christchurch airport, and began by looking at soil on footwear. To carry out the study, two of the B3 team travelled to either Auckland or Christchurch international airports and, with the cooperation of MAF staff, collected soil from the soles of contaminated footwear declared by arriving passengers to MAF.

The study found that on average every pair of shoes carried by international air passengers is contaminated with about one gram of soil. The small amount of soil on shoes presented an...

Friday, 2 March, 2012 - 12:11

Alan Flynn (Entomology Team Manager, MAF Plant Health & Environment Laboratory; left) and Max Novoselov (Technician, Innovative Farm Systems, AgResearch; right) discussing the viability test at a training session.

You might assume that the biggest problem border officials face is identifying foreign organisms in order to determine whether they pose a biosecurity risk. However, there is also a more fundamental dilemma, which is to determine whether invading organisms, often present as eggs or larvae, are dead or alive. This might seem an obvious and straightforward problem to solve, but until recently it remained a serious difficulty for agencies such as Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF).

To address this concern, a team of AgResearch scientists including Dr Craig Phillips, Dr Ilia Iline, Max Novoselov, Nicky Richards and Mark McNeill began developing a viability test for MAF in 2004 with support from Better Border Biosecurity (B3). They initially used an electrophoresis technique to determine if enzymes in the tested...

Tuesday, 24 January, 2012 - 13:34

Determining the degree to which an insect species feeds on different plant species is a critical test for biosecurity. Such tests can help scientists understand the potential host range of exotic insects and therefore what impact the species could have on native and agricultural plants in New Zealand.

Measuring the feeding behaviour of chewing insects is relatively straightforward, because the damage they cause by feeding can be readily observed visually. In contrast, sap-sucking insects can be seen  to insert their mouth parts (stylets) into the plant tissue, but it is very difficult to ascertain estimates of the extent to which they may be feeding.

To overcome this problem, Manoharie Sandanayaka, a Scientist at Plant and Food Research, has been developing a method based on an Electrical Penetration Technique that instantaneously measures the feeding behaviour of sap-sucking insects. This creates an Electrical Penetration Graph (EPG) that logs real-time feeding and is far more efficient than current methods for measuring host plant acceptance. The EPG waveforms change through time and produce usefully meaningful data using only 25-30...

Wednesday, 21 December, 2011 - 14:11

Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae (Psa) is a bacterial pathogen that causes the widespread death of kiwifruit vines. The pathogen first appeared in this country in Te Puke during November 2010, killing gold kiwifruit orchards but leaving most crops of the mainstay green variety still farmable.

In just over a year, at least 840 orchards in the Bay of Plenty, representing a third of all kiwifruit plantings nationally, have contracted the highly virulent form of Psa (called Psa-V). More recently it has also spread over a hundred kilometres away to orchards in Tauranga, Katikati, Waihi, Whakatane, Opotiki and Pukekohe. The current cultivar of gold kiwifruit planted in New Zealand is particularly susceptible to the disease.

B3 began supporting research on Psa soon after its appearance in New Zealand, in order to assist in development of diagnostic tools to identify the virulent strain and monitor its spread. Because the Psa bacterium has variable...

Wednesday, 26 October, 2011 - 08:32

B3’s Eradication and Response Theme aims to develop new insect pest eradication tools that will be effective as well as economically viable and socially acceptable. One such research project led by theme leader Dr Max Suckling of Plant and Food Research is using insects’ natural mating instincts to control pests without the need for controversial pesticide spraying.

Suckling’s team, in collaboration with the Western Australia Department of Food and Agriculture and the USDA in Hilo, Hawaii, has been investigating control methods for the Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana). Originating from southeastern Australia, the moth causes significant damage to agriculture and horticulture in the United States, Europe, Western Australia and New Zealand.

The Light Brown Apple Moth is also an interesting case study because its control has highlighted the need for socially acceptable control methods as an alternative to pesticides and aerial applications of chemicals. For example, when the moth was first found in California in 2007, aerial pheromone applications had to be halted due to large public opposition. In fact, there was no scientific evidence of environmental or community risk from the pheromones, despite media and interest group releases. However, as a result, the Light Brown Apple Moth has been used as a model organism to...

Tuesday, 18 October, 2011 - 22:28

AGM Female MongoliaImagine if it was possible to identify any species instantly, simply by scanning it in the same way a loaf of bread is scanned at the supermarket checkout. Think of how this could spark peoples’ deeper interest in their surroundings, appreciation of the importance of biodiversity and the severity of existing threats, such as food supply and climate change.

It may sound like science fiction, but new advances in molecular diagnostic technology may soon make this a reality. “DNA barcoding”, as the technology is called, was first used in New Zealand in 2003. Dr Karen Armstrong, Theme Leader for Diagnostics at B3 and Senior Research Officer at Lincoln University’s Bio-Protection Research Centre, has been building a DNA library that can be used to identify exotic insect pests, such as fruit flies, tussock moths and the yellow peach moth, all of which are considered high risk threats to New Zealand’s horticultural and forestry industries.

Initially, each time there was an interception of a different species at the border, the molecular approaches required to supplement traditional (visual) methods of identification had to be modified and then...

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