Environmental DNA technologies for rapid detection and identification of avocado priority pests (AV21003)
What's it all about?
This investment is developing environmental DNA (eDNA) technologies for the rapid detection and identification of priority pests for the avocado industry. Innovation in field and lab-based testing techniques will improve the ability of the avocado industry, and those undertaking surveillance activities, to quickly and accurately identify pest incursion threats in a cost-effective manner.
Short term (<3 years) outcomes include:
- eDNA capabilities for diagnostics and surveillance of priority avocado pests and pathogens, in addition to emerging biosecurity species of interest relevant for Australian avocado biosecurity have been developed.
- eDNA sampling methods that increase sensitivity and cost-efficiency of surveillance activities, particularly under an outbreak situation, have been developed and tested in the field.
- A subset of biosecurity officers have working knowledge of eDNA sampling protocols and in-field assay deployment, and these officers have been given the tools to train others within their department/organisation.
- There is increased industry awareness of avocado biosecurity threats, and the role of eDNA technologies in responding to these threats.
Medium to long term (>3 years) outcomes from this project include:
- The development of eDNA capabilities for Australia’s agricultural industries, specifically to the biosecurity area.
- Frameworks for improved pest surveillance activities that integrate eDNA methods with species occupancy detection modelling.
- Integration of eDNA testing into designs for surveillance of exotic plant pests.
- An improved understanding of how eDNA technologies could be used in Australian agriculture to decrease risk and improve profitability.
- Increased capacity building in biosecurity preparedness through collaborations with high calibre researchers.
End-users have been given a webinar that covers an introduction to eDNA, and how it is currently being used for biosecurity in the agricultural and horticultural space. Also discussed was airborne eDNA, and the use of rapid in-field testing, which in some instances can negate the need to take a sample to a laboratory for testing, speeding up the response to a pest or disease. A fieldwork plan has been delivered, which covers the methods of eDNA collection to be trialled in avocado orchards, and the timeframe this is expected to occur in. Lastly, progress has been made by trialling airborne eDNA collection methods in a well-studied area, where the species present are known. By comparing the species identified with eDNA, to those present, the efficacy of the technique can be studied across different taxonomic groups. The downstream sequencing of these airborne eDNA samples is underway. Testing is underway of methods for extracting DNA from a sample that can then be implemented for in-field extraction. Samples of diseased avocado leaves are being sent to the EnviroDNA laboratory for testing. Finally, local avocado orchards and processing facilities have been sourced to carry out trials of our eDNA collection methods.
In the first six months of the project, EnviroDNA has made progress to use eDNA for environmental monitoring of avocado orchards. They began developing active and passive airborne eDNA samplers by adapting existing solutions and creating new prototype samplers. The initial deployment of these samplers will be in a reference location with well-documented wildlife, enabling them to optimise the device design and sampling plans.
In addition, they have identified promising methods for preserving eDNA under field-like conditions, which will be applied in their second deployment at a local orchard during Summer 2023. Finally, they have started laboratory work on rapid target-species testing and field-based DNA extraction, which is ongoing.
This project is a strategic levy investment in the Hort Innovation Avocado Fund