Virtual ADSW 2023 brings surveillance and diagnostic practitioners together

October 23, 2023

The National Implementation Working Group (NIWG), Plant Surveillance Network Working Group (PSNWG), and PHA presented the virtual Annual Diagnostic and Surveillance Workshop (ADSW) 2023 on Friday, 6 October 2023.

Over 130 National Plant Biosecurity Diagnostic Network (NPBDN) and Plant Surveillance Network Australasia-Pacific (PSNAP) members from across the Australasia-Pacific region joined the two-and a-half-hour online event in what was a great opportunity for engaged surveillance and diagnostic professionals to present and discuss topical issues in the plant biosecurity space.

A highlight of the workshop was hearing from practitioners across the spectrum of plant biosecurity.

Jordan Bailey from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) Plant Pathology and Mycology Herbarium, shared the value of our national plant health reference collections and the vital role they play in protecting our plant biosecurity, as well as providing official and verifiable records for pest status.

“The first plant pathogen genome was actually assembled from a herbarium specimen in 1998, so we’ve been doing it for quite a while. And what that means is we can time travel right through these collections. We can go back in time and look at how they’re evolving to fungicide use, pesticide use, how they’re adapting to climate change, land management, different cultivars that we’re using, how they’re responding etc. There’s just this huge wealth of knowledge locked away in these collections,” Jordan said.

Following this was a series of talks from 2023 NPBDN residential recipients. Elisse Nogarotto from Agriculture Victoria, presented the newly installed MALDI-TOF biotyper at AgriBio that is used for bacterial identification. This new platform was installed in August 2023 and uses matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization to identify bacteria using the unique proteomic fingerprint of an organism, which is then matched to profile markers in a reference library.

Rebecca Roach from Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries presented on her residential, that focuses on plant pathogenic Agrobacterium and Rhizobium species. She emphasised the challenges facing diagnosticians, including difficulty in isolating the pathogens, how the taxonomic changes can complicate sequence analysis and how the current diagnostic assays were time consuming and prone to false positives. The outcomes of the residential are to facilitate additional study of collected isolates, share positive control material, run all controls with current assays for validation and investigate other diagnostic tools. Both Elisse and Rebecca plan to visit’s residentials will be done together at NSW DPI and will be aligning their visits to overlap to provide samples for each others residentials, perfectly emphasising this year’s theme of “Implementation through connections”.

Gus McFarlane from NSW DPI who talked about CRISPR-based diagnostic techniques, which are based on DNA or RNA and have the potential to provide rapid, in-field detections providing visual readouts in less than one hour, and multiplexed diagnostics that are capable of screening for thousands of targets in a single test. This technology has been successfully used to establish a five-plex Cas12 test for identifying five high priority plant pathogens, including banana bunchy top virus (BBTV). Gus will be visiting the Plant Innovation Centre (PIC) in Victoria.

Nga Tran from the University of Queensland then presented her residential, which focusses on producing draft National Diagnostic Protocols (NDPs) for avocado scab and laurel wilt, for which no International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) diagnostic protocols currently exist. Nga will be visiting the Plant Diagnostic Clinic at The University of Florida.

The final residential was presented by Lilia Carvalhais from the University of Queensland on behalf of herself and Kathy Crew from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, on improving the detection protocols of banana wilt associated phytoplasmas for post-entry quarantine indexing.  Phytoplasmas are wall-less obligate intracellular bacteria that are vectored by leafhoppers, planthoppers and psyllids, with some species infecting banana, coconut, and betelnut palms in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The objective of the residential was to improve the sampling protocol for phytoplasma indexing of banana germplasm. Lilia and Kathy’s residential visit will be done at the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in Papua New Guinea.

Plant Health Australia’s (PHA) Manager, Diagnostics Rachel Mann discussed development process for National Diagnostic Protocols (NDPs) and National Surveillance Protocols (NSPs) for National Priority Plant Pests (NPPPs), Exotic Environmental Pests (EEPs) and High Priority Plant Pests (HPPs). Currently there are 50 endorsed and 74 draft NDPs in contrast with three endorsed and 13 draft NSPs.

Rachel called for more PSNAP and NPBDN members to consider authoring national protocols and including them in their project milestones.

“Authoring national protocols gives you an opportunity to strengthen Australia’s biosecurity system, build your expertise and gain recognition as a national expert, as all endorsed National Diagnostic Protocols are published with an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). Be on the lookout for opportunities on the PSNAP and NPBDN network or get in touch with the Protocols Coordinator NSPCoordinator@phau.com.au or NDPCoordinator@phau.com.au,” she said.

Dr Will Cuddy from NSW DPI introduced NPBDN and PSNAP members to the National Grains Diagnostic and Surveillance Initiative, a five-year project designed to address the growing biosecurity risks facing the Australian grains industry.

“Incursion control and trade impacts cost the industry an average of $100 million per event. With less than 10% of the 54 high priority exotic plant pests having endorsed National Diagnostic Protocols, the program’s objective is to modernise diagnostics through molecular methods and research for near real-time identification of biotic threats and to develop diagnostic standards” he said.

Carlos Babativa Rodriguez from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Western Australia (DPIRD WA) spoke about how geospatial plant ground-truthing for UAVs aids ground-level surveillance for plant pests, in particular, skeleton weed in WA.

“Aerial search via drone removes fire and cross-contamination risks, yields consistent and accurate auditable records and is considerably more cost effective for area coverage. AI and advances in technology will continue to make the analysis of the resulting terabytes of data more practical, making weed and pest data collection faster and easier than ever before,” he said.

Abel Ximenes from the DNQB-Plant Quarantine International Airport Nicolau Lobato Comoro then presented a case study on the assessment of the Khapra Beetle infestation in Timor Leste. The objective of the survey was to find out the types of insect pests that attack rice commodities in private sector and government warehouses in Timor-Leste and was conducted in eight districts. The survey results revealed that there were eight types of insect pests on rice commodities in these municipalities, including Sitophilus oryzae, Tribolium castaneum, Cryptoleste Pusillus, Oryzaephilus surinamensis, Ahasverus, Lasioderma, Rhyzopertha dominica, Trogoderma grasnarium.

Finally, Dr Sharyn Taylor, PHA’s Manager, Surveillance, presented on the Nationally Integrated Surveillance System for Plant Pests (NISSPP) program, a project that has been funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to identify ways to improve delivery and resourcing for surveillance now and into the future.

“Building new systems or improving our biosecurity systems, we need to make them fair, transparent and equitable, which will be a major challenge for us. However, there’s an opportunity for us to improve visibility in terms of who are the beneficiaries of these programs, which can involve a wider range of stakeholders outside of government and industry, including major retailers and tourism companies,” Sharyn said.

Rachel concluded the workshop with a call for network members to register their expressions of interest to attend the upcoming Annual Diagnostic Workshop (ADW) 2024 and Annual Surveillance Workshop (ASW) 2024, to be held during the week of 18 March 2024. The ADW and ASW 2024 events are exclusive to PSNAP and NPBDN members and expressions of interest close 23 October. Find out more by visiting psnap.net.au or npbdn.net.au.

The National Plant Biosecurity Diagnostic and Surveillance Professional Development and Protocols Project is coordinated and delivered by Plant Health Australia and is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. The objectives of the Project are to enhance and strengthen Australia’s diagnostic and surveillance capacity and capability to identify priority plant pests that impact on plant industries, environment and the community.