Progress towards a National Plant Biosecurity Diagnostic Network

Fast and accurate diagnosis underpins so much biosecurity activity. It is essential in the event of a plant pest incursion: for early detection, determining the magnitude of an incursion and in developing and carrying out an appropriate response. Everyday management practices involved in the production and trade of plant products also rely on diagnostic capacity.

Nationally, diagnostic services are available in around 70 locations and delivered by a variety of agencies including government, private commercial organisations, CSIRO, museums and universities. The NPBDN, driven through the Subcommittee on Plant Health Diagnostic Standards (SPHDS), brings together all of this expertise with a view to forming a nationally integrated diagnostic network. Collaboration efforts are being assisted through a dedicated and secure NPBDN online community space moderated by SPHDS and hosted by the Australian Biosecurity Intelligence Network.

The potential benefits of this collaboration are great. In addition to increased effectiveness and efficiency, a national network of diagnosticians will allow roles and responsibilities to be allocated in a coordinated manner, drawing on regional expertise in specific types of pests.

The idea for a national network of plant diagnosticians is not new. Nonetheless, the National Plant Biosecurity Strategy’s call for a nationally integrated diagnostic network has added impetus to the early work of PHA and the SPHDS. With funding support from Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), Plant Health Australia and SPHDS were able to bring all the key players together at a workshop in June 2011 to secure their ongoing participation. This was a defining moment in turning the idea into a reality.

Lois Ransom, Chief Plant Protection Officer at DAFF, says that building a formal network across jurisdictions is an important part of ensuring that Australia’s plant diagnostic capacity and capability continues to evolve.

“SPHDS has been working hard at building a more formal diagnostic network and the early signs of its operation are evident,” said Ms Ransom.

“The diagnostic network has the potential to deliver many benefits by maximising the flow of diagnostic data and use of resources. It is identified as a key action for diagnostics in the National Plant Biosecurity Strategy and I look forward to seeing it progress.”

The network has already proved beneficial. Over the past six months developments include:

  • Enhanced networking of participants through new workshops
  • Key actions being included in participants’ work plans
  • Commencing a laboratory accreditation scheme in over half of the jurisdictions
  • Smoother movement of specimens between labs
  • Drafting a process for the import of diagnostic control samples
  • Creation of a discussion forum of diagnostic capacity
  • Further integration of reference collections
  • Increased National Diagnostic Protocol development.

SPHDS would like to thank the individuals and organisations who have contributed to these achievements. As members of the network, SPHDS will continue to guide its implementation, together with related recommendations of the National Plant Biosecurity Strategy, and keep members informed of progress.

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Helping Australian plant diagnosticians succeed together