Biosecurity news

Cawthron scientist Susie Wood presenting to fellow researchers
7 July 2017

International experts working together to benefit New Zealand’s marine biosecurity

A new technology with the ability to revolutionise the detection of invasive marine pests in New Zealand waters is now being trialled at 14 laboratories around the world.

The global experiment follows an international workshop attended by 30 experts from 16 research organisations, keen to work out how to apply the technology which will speed up the identification of invasive marine species.

The technology is called High Throughput Sequencing or HTS. It identifies species within environmental samples, not by how they look, but by recognising characteristic strands (‘sequences’) of DNA and RNA (ribonucleic acid). New HTS technologies can sequence hundreds of thousands of strands of DNA and RNA at once so that many more samples can be processed and many more species identified in less time. Looking for molecular signatures in the water using HTS could lead to much faster – and cheaper - detection of marine pests

New Zealand’s native coastal ecosystems and marine-based industries are particularly vulnerable to impacts from foreign invasive species, many of which arrive here via international shipping. The numbers of foreign marine plants and animals in New Zealand have skyrocketed since the 1960s, largely due to increased global shipping.


The workshop's national and international attendees

The workshop was organised by Dr Xavier Pochon and funded through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) Catalyst Fund (awarded to NIWA, Cawthron Institute and the University of Waikato) whose objective is to leverage international collaborations for New Zealand’s benefit.

This programme received additional funding from the Canadian and Australian governments, Cawthron Institute, NIWA, the biotech companies QiaGen and Illumina, and the Canadian Journal Genome.

The outcomes of the workshop and experiments will be published in international scientific journals, and discussed at the 10th International Conference on Marine Bioinvasions in Argentina next year.