Dr Dean Brookes, a research scientist with the University of Queensland, has been announced as the awardee of this year's cotton Science and Innovation Awards.
The award, provided by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and ABARES with support from CRDC, was announced by the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the Hon. David Littleproud MP, today. Dean will be presented with his award at the annual ABARES dinner in Canberra next week.
Dean's project focuses on scanning irrigation water for trace amounts of DNA left behind by pests and pathogens, as a potential new way to quickly identify difficult to find cotton pests. The approach could be used to complement traditional pest and disease surveys.
“DNA of various organisms is sitting out in the field, in the soil and on plant material” Dean says.
“As irrigation water runs through the field it’s going to collect a lot of that material and—depending on the organism—we might be able to detect it by collecting that water and filtering it for their DNA.”
This DNA is known as environmental DNA (eDNA), and finding it has proven popular in conservation biology as a highly-sensitive way of detecting organisms.
“The most common use is in river systems where researchers take a sample of water to look at fish species diversity” Dean says.
“It’s a great way to get information about the diversity of organisms that are in an environment without having to physically look for them.
“And because of the way cotton is irrigated there’s a good chance that it’ll be useful there as well.”
The inspiration for the project comes from Dean’s PhD research into a cotton pest that was difficult to find in the field during the drought. It got Dean thinking about different ways of tracking pest species without having to actually spot them.
The project will start with two species— whitefly and reniform nematode—in a proof-of-concept study.
If successful, the highly-sensitive technology could one day also be used as a surveillance method to help contain biosecurity incursions before they can devastate the industry.