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...

Thursday, 19 May, 2011 - 11:16

Speech by Dr Stephen Goldson, Strategy Advisor to the Office of the Prime Minister’s Science Advisory Committee, to the MAF Policy, Science and Economics conference, 5 May 2011

Good afternoon everyone and thank you for asking me to this session.

I am actually an applied entomologist and had a really good time for about 15 years in the MAF Research Division and then MAF Technology before it was turned into AgResearch. I have a debt of gratitude to MAF for putting me through half of my MSc and then my PhD at Lincoln. Those who were then my bosses were great leaders and seemed particularly tolerant of the foibles of the callow neophyte I was then. People like Peter O’Hara, Robin Scott, Russ Ballard, David Joblin, Bill Kain, Rod East and many others were remarkably patient, encouraging and constructive. Indeed, MAF made such an imprint on me that when I am tired or distracted or both, I occasionally still refer to AgResearch as MAF, which is embarrassing for everyone particularly at meetings.

As I said, I have spent much of my career at Lincoln working on the suppression of some of our worst exotic forage pest species using parasitoid biological control agents. Linked to this more latterly, I have developed an interest in ways to enhance New Zealand’s border biosecurity and now work 70% of my time as the Executive Director of a multi-organisational...

Wednesday, 18 May, 2011 - 15:03

The Biological Control Agents introduced to New Zealand (BCANZ) database is now available to help regulators and researchers find information on biological control agents that have been introduced to New Zealand to help manage weed and invertebrate pests.

The database currently contains records for 720 introductions of 518 biological control agents against 126 targets (25 weeds and 101 invertebrates). This information is being constantly updated.

Initiated originally by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA NZ), BCANZ is now maintained by Better Border Biosecurity (B3).

The database includes information for each organism on the date it was imported, where it was imported from, whether or not it was eventually released into the New Zealand environment, how many organisms were released and when and if the organism established in New Zealand. A comprehensive set of references enables users to locate further information about each agent.

The database is searchable by both target organism and by biocontrol agent.

BCANZ was first made available to the public in 2007. It is used by a variety of parties including regulators, the Department of Conservation, applicants for new introductions and researchers.

Dr Geoff Ridley, Science Manager (New Organisms) at ERMA NZ says that BCANZ helps ERMA to fulfil its role in regulating...

Wednesday, 18 May, 2011 - 14:39

Lisa Berndt (Scion)

The programme ‘Better Border Biosecurity’ (B3) is a partnership between research providers (AgResearch, Plant and Food Research, Scion and Lincoln University) and end users (MAF BNZ, ERMA New Zealand, Department of Conservation and the Forest Biosecurity Research Council). One of the research priorities identified in the partnership has been to assist those applying to ERMA NZ for approval for new biocontrol agent introductions to better meet the HSNO Act Section 36 Minimum Standards.  An example of where assistance may be useful is in predicting and explaining the likelihood (which can be minuscule) of a new introduction displacing native species, or causing other deterioration of natural habitats.

When considering the release of a new biological control agent into New Zealand, the Biosecurity and HSNO Acts require that ERMA NZ take "the relationship of Māori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, wahi tapu [sacred places], valued flora and fauna, and other taonga [treasures]" into account when applications are considered. The Act also requires that consideration be given to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi).

The responsibility for providing to Māori an assessment of the risks, costs and benefits of a biocontrol proposal sits rests the applicants.  This...

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