First PhD student at the Plant Innovation Centre at Post-Entry Quarantine

March 9, 2022

The first PhD student to work at the Plant Innovation Centre at Post-Entry Quarantine (PIC@PEQ) has been welcomed by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE). PIC@PEQ is a team of dedicated scientists working to improve our in-house research and development capability. This includes partnering with the external scientific community and education sector to identify, develop and deliver new and innovative diagnostic technologies.

DAWE is excited to have Tom joining the PIC@PEQ team as its first ever PhD student, in collaboration with the University of the Sunshine Coast and the University of Florida. Tom will be studying methods to efficiently identify viruses in key seed species imported into Australia.

Imported seeds have the potential to introduce serious and harmful exotic plant pathogens into Australia. To address this risk, DAWE requires some imported seeds to be tested for the presence of these harmful pathogens. But current testing methods are costly and slow, requiring dozens of individual tests to detect different plant viruses.

Tom will be investigating the development of a cost-effective method using third-generation high-throughput sequencing. Using this method, it may be possible to identify all pests from just one sample in one cost-effective test.

Australia has a robust biosecurity system that reduces the risks posed by exotic pests and diseases, but DAWE is always looking for ways to further strengthen and future-proof our screening processes.

This project is part of the Modern Technologies and Diagnostic Tools measure, a $22.27 million investment from the government. This measure will run from 2021 to 2025 to strengthen and modernise DAWEs plant biosecurity diagnostic system. Tom’s work will also feed into DAWEs aim of harnessing science to support policy, regulatory and operational decision-making, and to increase cross-cutting science, information and research activity & capability.

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