Micro solution for major biosecurity problem

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University of Southern Queensland funded to pilot plant disease detection program

An innovative University of Southern Queensland project exploring a rapid and cost-effective way to tackle plant diseases has received funding from the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Dr Zahra Faraji Rad leads a team developing microneedles for a diagnostic tool using nanotechnology to rapidly detect high-risk plant pests and pathogens at Australian borders and in the field of surveillance.

The proposed device would act as a portable “sample result entry” tool in the field, accelerating biosecurity detection times.

The project is one of 24 pilot innovation programs funded this year by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s Biosecurity Innovation Program.

Dr. Faraji Rad will initiate the research by developing custom nano-engineered micro-needles to extract plant tissue samples.

“The Biosafety Innovation Program combines my research on microneedle technology with a separate project on nano-biosensors at RMIT University to develop a diagnostic tool for the detection of plant diseases,” said said Dr. Faraji Rad.

“The final product diagnostic device itself will use micro-needles to extract cellular contents from a suspicious plant, then immediately scan the samples with biosensors.

“This would allow multiple plant pathogens to be detected instantly in the field by generalist biosafety officers, minimizing the need for a laboratory diagnostic process.”

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry assistant secretary for biosecurity and compliance, Dr Chris Locke, said that once the technology is proven, a portable prototype will be developed for use by law enforcement officers. frontline biosecurity.

“At this time, our field biosecurity officers need to send samples offsite for laboratory testing for high-risk plant pests,” Dr Locke said.

“This diagnostic tool could enable rapid and accurate testing in the field, which will speed up biosecurity screening processes and contribute to a sustainable and effective national biosecurity system.”

Microneedles are currently used in the medical field for sample extraction and diagnosis.

Dr. Faraji Rad is with the School of Engineering, Center for Crop Health and Center for Future Materials at the University of Southern Queensland, a leading research center in the field of advanced composite materials and their applications.

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