High-tech sustainable protection for key Australian crops

The application of a revolutionary alternative to chemical fungicides to protect Australia’s $5 trillion global food and agribusiness sector is being spearheaded by researchers at The University of Queensland.

UQ’s Professor Neena Mitter said the team from the newly launched $17.5m Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformational Research Hub for Sustainable Crop Protection was building on UQ’s BioClay technology to create a ‘smart’ form of biological crop protection.

“We will be bringing biological-based fungicides to Australian broadacre and horticultural crops, resulting in reduced chemical use, increased crop productivity, and improved sustainability across the supply chain,” she said.

“This technology involves topical application of RNA interference using clay particles as carriers.

“There is no genetic modification and the clay is completely biodegradable.”

Professor Mitter said that meant the BioClay would not result in chemical residues in food or run-off into waterways.

“Globally, an estimated 40 per cent of food grown is lost to crop pests and pathogens.”

She said the fungal pathogens targeted by the Hub were selected in close consultation with Research and Development Corporations and industry partners.

“We will tackle issues such as fungicide resistance or targets where no effective control measures are currently available.”

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation project involves staff from Australian Institute Bioengineering and Nanotechnology , School of Agriculture and Food Sciences , School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences , Sustainable Energy Futures , and Centre for Policy Futures.

“The Hub comprises an expert multidisciplinary team including science, commercial and policy experts, with the aim of increasing productivity, market access and enhanced environmental credentials of Australian food,” Professor Mitter said.

Hub Partner Oganisations:

Nufarm Australia limited; DuluxGroup (Australia) Pty Ltd; Bioplatforms Australia Ltd; AusVeg Ltd; Grains Research & Development Corporation; Cotton Research & Development Corporation; Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited; Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Queensland; Department of Primary Industries - NSW; Australian Wine Research Institute; South Australian Research and Development Institute; Australian Grape and Wine Authority; Griffith University; Curtin University; La Trobe University, University of Tasmania; University of California, Riverside.

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