The Seed - Biosecurity Innovation Hub

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Spot, the four-legged robot dog, and temi, a sleek and autonomous personal robot in the Agriculture House foyer.

Welcome to The Seed, a platform dedicated to sharing insightful articles and exciting developments in the biosecurity space.

We recognize the importance of biosecurity and its impact on global health and safety, so our team will keep you updated on the latest developments and trends in the exciting fields of biotechnology, agricultural innovation, and disease and pest prevention.

Each issue will feature stories about exciting initiatives and profiles of people who are making great strides in innovation.

Join us as we explore the frontiers of biosecurity and innovation.

Welcome to The Seed, a platform dedicated to sharing insightful articles and exciting developments in the biosecurity space.

We recognize the importance of biosecurity and its impact on global health and safety, so our team will keep you updated on the latest developments and trends in the exciting fields of biotechnology, agricultural innovation, and disease and pest prevention.

Each issue will feature stories about exciting initiatives and profiles of people who are making great strides in innovation.

Join us as we explore the frontiers of biosecurity and innovation.

  • Eradicating Khapra beetles: Ethyl formate may be a game-changing solution

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    To reduce dependence on Methyl bromide in controlling and eradicating Khapra beetle at the Australia border, the department has joined forces with Murdoch University to explore the use of Ethyl formate to enrich our national biosecurity management toolbox.

    Working with Dr Yonglin Ren from Murdoch University, the department is investigating whether Ethyl formate can achieve the same results or better, than Methyl bromide for treatment of Khapra beetle.

    Stage 1 of the collaboration is largely complete, where a laboratory based Khapra beetle colony is being established in India, in preparation for Ethyl formate testing in Stage 2 next financial year.

    It’s anticipated this project will generate comprehensive data for the department to evaluate the effectiveness and feasibility of Ethyl formate as a potential treatment for Khapra beetle in plant products and sea containers, as well as emergency management responses.

    Currently, Australia relies on Methyl bromide for quarantine and pre-shipment fumigation to significantly reduce the risk of the exotic pest breaching our borders. Whilst being highly effective, Methyl bromide is also a powerful ozone depleter, has been phased out in some countries and is not suitable for treating organic certified products.

    Alternative phytosanitary treatments such as heat treatment, residual insecticide and controlled atmosphere are also being used but can have substantial drawbacks including costs, ease of use, and availability.

    If the trials are successful, Ethyl formate could be a viable alternative to Methyl bromide as it is considered easy to apply, fast acting, less damaging to human health and the environment and is showing little to no damage to products in other studies.

    This collaboration between the department and Murdoch University represents our continued commitment to protecting our borders, environment, agricultural commodities, and way of life.

    We’ll bring you further updates on the project in the coming months, but in the meantime, you can contact for more information.

  • Ballast water pilot achieves promising results

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    In July last year, our Innovation Pilots and Marine and Aquatic Biosecurity teams began collaborating on a ballast water pilot. The pilot compared the effectiveness of 2 commercially available ballast water sampling and analysis kits, the Satake Ballast Catch and Ballast Eye and the SGSBWMS2.

    Currently the department outsources sampling and testing of ballast water. The goal of the pilot was to assess if existing sampling kits can be adopted as a cost saving and innovative solution which would enable our biosecurity officers to sample and test water in-house.

    We’re excited to bring you an update on the pilot, which achieved amazing results for the department’s ongoing dedication to keeping Australia’s waters free of marine invasive species.

    Each kit was tested in the port of Newcastle on seven vessels over four days during routine vessel inspections. The functionality of the technology, and compliance with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) standards of sampling both large (50μm) and small (10-50μm) organisms were tested. The overall reliability, and accuracy of each kit was also assessed.

    Both kits achieved promising results and the department are committing to purchase one of the kits in the coming months for future use in the compliance of ballast water.

    This pilot marks a significant stride towards enhancing the department’s biosecurity measures. The adoption of these innovative technologies promises greater efficiency, reliability, and compliance in ballast water sampling analysis. With these advancements, we look forward to a future where in-house capabilities lead the way in safeguarding our marine ecosystems. To discover more about this pilot, please contact

    Biosecurity Officers preparing to board a vessel for testing

  • New tools to help manage responses to emergency animal diseases

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    Chickens behind chicken wireIn free range situations, the risk of exposure to avian influenza is higher due to more chance of flocks being exposed to infected wild birds or their droppings.

    High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI) is an extremely contagious disease of poultry that can cause very high mortality. Australia’s poultry meat production is valued at around $3.5 billion and a HPAI outbreak could have severe consequences for the poultry meat and egg industries and the Australian economy. Control measures often involve depopulation and euthanasia of entire flocks to prevent further spread of the disease.

    The key to managing emergency animal disease outbreaks lies in understanding disease transmission, which can be gained in near real-time by gathering and analysing data during an outbreak.

    Following a serious outbreak of HPAI in Victoria in 2020, we joined forces with CSIRO under the Biosecurity Innovation Program in 2021-22 to build capacity for understanding the spread of HPAI virus, undertaking the ‘Extending the SPREAD application to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza’ project.

    CSIRO had initially developed the System for Preparedness and Response to Emergency Animal Diseases (SPREAD) platform for foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), a serious and highly contagious disease that affects all cloven-hoofed animals including cattle and sheep. The platform provides a web interface for accessing data storage, analysis and modelling to help understand how FMD can spread between farms.

    Further development of the web interface which is aimed at adapting the SPREAD platform to HPAI continues. Work completed under the Biosecurity Innovation Program has led to the development of integrated models, analytics, and a database specific to HPAI, including genomic networking and the application of meteorological data for modelling wind-borne spread. We are working with CSIRO to further test and validate these tools.

    These developments are valuable in making sure we are better prepared for future HPAI outbreaks on poultry farms, improving our ability to respond swiftly and effectively to protect our livestock and economy.

  • Ballast water pilot

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    Australia’s wa large cargo ship docked at a port releasing ballast water Ballast water released from a ship in portaterways are full of unique animals and plant life. To ensure we have safe and sustainable oceans to enjoy, it’s important we keep marine pests out of our waters and manage their spread.

    Marine pests are plants and animals which aren’t native to Australia and can include crabs, mussels, sea stars, worms, and algae. If marine pests establish in our waterways, it’s almost impossible to get rid of them. They can damage marine habitats and structures, our aquaculture industries and even impact human health.

    The spread of marine pests through ballast water is becoming an increasing concern. Ballast water is used to give ships stability during turbulent seas or while carrying light loads. When the water is released from the ship, it can contain invasive marine species.

    The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has established the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships Ballast Water and Sediments 2004 (BWM Convention), which Australia ratified to in 2016. This puts in place discharge standards and requires the adoption of treatment equipment for all vessels using ballast water.

    To verify a ship’s compliance, our biosecurity officers collect samples of ballast water, which presents a challenge due to the large volume of water required.

    To address this, the Innovation Pilots Team has partnered with the Marine and Aquatic Biosecurity Section (MABS) to assess the efficacy of existing, commercially available ballast water sampling and analysis kits. The objective is to ensure ships can fulfill regulatory requirements under the Biosecurity Act 2015 in turn safeguarding coastal waters from marine invasive species.

    The pilot aims to demonstrate the functionality of commercially available technology to determine if they meet IMO standards i.e. can the equipment analyse all three organism size classes in the D2 Discharge Standard, >50μm, 10-50μm and <10μm, efficiently, reliably, and accurately. It will test if the technology is easy and intuitive to use, portable and lightweight and if biosecurity officers are able to make a decision or direction based on the result.

    Everyone collaborating on this project is excited and remain dedicated to keeping our waters free of marine invasive species. To find out more about this pilot, please contact

  • Spots journey so far

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    In our ongoing effort to bolster biosecurity and champion innovation, testing of our robot dog, Spot, continues.

    Developed by robotics designers, Boston Dynamics, Spot can navigate rough and uneven ground, operate remotely, do automated tasks, and capture crucial data that has the potential to strengthen our biosecurity.

    One of Spot’s strengths is its ability to carry up to 14kg of equipment, including cameras, light detection and ranging, and sensors. This means Spot could take on hazardous container surveillance and inspection work and reduce the occupational risks for our biosecurity officers.

    By integrating robotics into our inspection work, we’re prioritising the safety of our dedicated biosecurity officers and enhancing our efficiency.

    In 2022, Spot was put through its paces when it was dispatched to the Port of Darwin and the Ranger Uranium Mine to do container inspections and collect environmental samples and readings. The trial was an opportunity to assess Spot's basic functionality and manoeuvrability and capture clear images under challenging conditions.

    As a result of the pilot study, we identified areas for improvement, but with further refinement this ground-breaking technology could become an invaluable solution for our activities.

    Spot the robot dog is just the beginning, and we are excited about the future possibilities that robotics and automation will bring to our biosecurity system.

    Click here to watch Spot in action.

  • International Day of Plant Health

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    To celebrate the International Day of Plant Health 2023, the Australian Chief Plant Protection Office hosted a Plant Health Science Exchange on Friday 12 May.

    The International Day of Plant Health raises global awareness on how protecting plant health has broader impacts such as reducing hunger and poverty, protecting biodiversity and the environment, and boosting economic development. The exchange provided a chance for our department and the general plant health community to trade knowledge and innovation on plant health, environmental protection and biodiversity.

    Those attending were fortunate to rub shoulders with our Minister, Senator the Hon Murray Watt, Secretary Andrew Metcalfe as well as everyone’s favourite robotic detector dog, ‘Spot’, who treated all to a demonstration of his amazing skills to assist managing biosecurity risk and improving Work Health & Safety for staff.

    Keynote speaker for the day was our new Australian Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer, Dr Bertie Hennecke, who addressed the important theme of environmental protection and biodiversity, and the winners of the #plant health day photo competition were announced by Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer, Dr Gabrielle Vivian-Smith.

    The exchange was a success, highlighting our efforts to protect Australia’s agriculture, unique environment and biodiversity through innovation in plant health research and plant biosecurity.

    Secretary Metcalfe and Minister Watt with Spot, the robot dog.Spot enjoying a pat from Secretary Andrew Metcalfe and Minister Murray Watt at the Plant Health Science Exchange.

  • We have moved!

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    The Department of Agriculture's new building, called 'Agriculture House', located in Canberra. The image captures the architectural design of the building, featuring a modern and sleek exterior with glass facades and clean lines. The department’s new building HQ in Canberra ‘Agriculture House’. Our Canberra office has officially moved to a new building and are now located at ‘Agriculture House’, Canberra City.

    To help us with the move we had a surprise addition to our team, Temi – the telepresence robot. Temi is equipped with cutting edge technology that help staff to navigate the new building and answer any visitors questions.

    With the help of Temi, we are exploring the use of telepresence robots to improve biosecurity measures and reduce the risk of exposure for staff. Telepresence robots, such as Temi, are being trialled for tasks such as providing assistance with access to information, providing directions, remote learning, and development training. We aim to determine if robots like Temi can support our staff by making tasks safer and more efficient, while identifying areas where operational efficiencies and cost savings can be achieved.

    You can learn more about our new office on our website.

  • Spot arrives at 'Agriculture House’

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    Our Canberra staff recently moved to a new building and brought Spot along for the ride.

    Spot is an incredible creation from Boston Dynamics that has been making waves in the tech world. This amazing robot can move around in almost any environment and has a wide range of applications, including helping with daily activities to manage biosecurity risks and improve Work Health & Safety (WHS) of staff.

    Six photos taken at 'Agriculture House', featuring Spot standing tall, packed in a box and opening a box of chocolateSpot and temi enjoying each other’s company.Spot’s been in the spotlight this year with our initial trials in Darwin and the Ranger Uranium Mine in the Northern Territory, showcasing its agility in undertaking routine inspections and remote data capture. We’re excited to have our very own Spot, and we will be trialling it at other locations around Australia including at our Post Entry Quarantine Centre to test its ability to undertaking routine tasks like watering plants, feeding animals and spraying herbicides.

    Spot can manoeuvre across a range of surfaces, provide clear images under a range of conditions, and identify biosecurity risk material (BRM). Spot can also live-stream, take images, and even dance. He can also carry payloads, including an arm that can open doors and pick up items, that could allow it to collect data and detect harmful gases,

    With the use of Spot, we can enhance detection capabilities, reducing WHS risk, removing subjective errors, creating a more traceable data record, and reducing the time to undertake some activities, allowing staff to focus on higher priority work. As a result, we can minimise labour and repetitive strain injuries, reduce the need for staff to handle aggressive animals, and eliminate the need for biosecurity officers to be out in the elements.

    Innovation, science, and technology initiatives have the potential to revolutionise the way we operate and helps keep staff safer. By exploring new technologies like Spot, the department can stay ahead of the curve and find new and exciting ways to enhance Australia's biosecurity systems.

    Spot has already proven to be a valuable member of our team. We cannot wait to see what more this amazing robot can do, and we're excited to see what the future holds.

    You can learn more about other pilots the department is undertaking by visiting the innovation pilots initiative page of our website.

  • Biofouling

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    Have you ever heard of biofouling? Biofouling is when organisms hitch a ride, attach, and grow on the submerged parts of vessels.

    Over 250 exotic marine species have been introduced into Australia through biofouling on international vessels, which is the primary means of spread. In response to the increased global regulations on biofouling there is a need for technology that can predict and reduce the biofouling risk of vessels before their arrival in Australia.

    Biofouling caused by various bio-organisms. It is a surface covered with a diverse array of organisms, such as mussels, and other marine life. The bio-organisms have attached themselves to the surface, forming a thick and textured layer. Aquatic hitchhikersWe are on the case and taking a comprehensive approach to biofouling by implementing new requirements and utilising various technologies. This will help to better predict and reduce the risk of exotic marine species being introduced into Australia through international vessels.

    Our Marine Biosecurity Unit (MBU) is also implementing new requirements and pursuing various projects by collaborating with the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis (CEBRA) and the Pilots team.

    One of the many initiatives being trialled is the use of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to inspect vessel hulls as an alternative to using divers. The Pilots team is working with MBU to evaluate the effectiveness of ROVs.

    A CEBRA project is also identifying biofouling in a speedy and cost-effective way. CEBRA is using machine learning and artificial intelligence to label biofouling images with ultimate efficiency collected by ROVs, and even extending the model to analyse video footage. By mid-2024, they will be able to spot biofouling faster than a speeding ship!

    And if that's not impressive enough, another project is using a maritime pathway risk decision support tool to provide early assessment of biosecurity risks from vessels. With the help of artificial intelligence, it predicts the level of biofouling so we can see what’s lurking beneath the surface.

    As we continue to work on these projects, we remain committed to protecting Australia's marine environment and ensuring the continued success of our biofouling journey.

    So next time you're out in the water, take a moment to appreciate the work being done to keep our waters free from biofouling and protect our delicate ecosystem.

  • Northern Pacific Seastar Pheromone Trap Project

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    Senator the Hon Murray Watt, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and the Hon Gayle Tierney MLC, Victorian Minister for Agriculture, recently released information on the Northern Pacific Seastar Pheromone Trap project.

    The amazing project aims to control the population of invasive sea stars in temperate waters of Australia to protect native marine species and preserve the biodiversity of our waters.

    Scientists in Victoria are working to identify the pheromone that causes invasive northern Pacific seastars to congregate en masse during mating to help remove the pest from Australian marine areas and fisheries. The exotic pests, first identified in 1995, have been estimated to number more than 165 million and a single female can produce between 5-20 million eggs annually. The scientists are collecting and testing molecules released by the northern Pacific seastars during mating season to identify the pheromones that trigger congregation.

    You can learn more about this exciting project in the media release issued January 2023.

    Researchers working on the northern pacific Seastar pheromone trap project.Researchers working on the northern pacific Seastar pheromone trap project.A group of Northern Pacific Seastar in a lab dish with different markings: yellow to orange with purple markings are juvenile and yellow are adult. Northern Pacific Seastar (Asterias amurensis) – Marine Pests