The Australian Government is rolling out a National eDNA Testing Program, which will involve the development of a portable tool to enable rapid DNA testing.

Handheld eDNA technology not much bigger than a mobile phone can find evidence of pests and pathogens from samples of air, soil, dust and water in the environment. Test results are reliable and fast, taking an hour instead of days, and can be conducted in the field rather than a lab.

Biosecurity staff will be able to take samples from shipping containers, tarmacs or in agricultural areas.

“eDNA is a gamechanger for national biosecurity risk management,” said Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud. 

Quick detections in the field can cut biosecurity response times, ensuring exotic pests and diseases can be stopped before establishing in Australia. Researchers have already tested the technology by detecting the presence of the invasive pest khapra beetle in dirt samples from a vacuum cleaner.

A National eDNA Testing Program will be rolled out in the coming year in partnership with research organisations across Australia.

The $7 million program includes a National eDNA Reference Centre and collaboration network which will formalise the use of eDNA technology and its ability to meet international standards for identifying pests and pathogens.

eDNA facts

  • Researchers had a world-first detection of khapra beetle eDNA in samples of dust and dirt from shipping containers in November 2020
  • This technology is now being used successfully to screen incoming shipping containers, target high-risk entry pathways, and rapidly respond to threats
  • High priority biosecurity pests being targeted include exotic invasive ants (e.g., red imported fire ant and browsing ant), giant African snail, brown marmorated stink bug, fish pathogens, exotic myrtle rust, and exotic bees and bee pests such as varroa mite