Dr Barney Stephenson, Senior Science Adviser and coordinator of MPI’s input into the B3 Collaboration, says that good progress has been made in appreciating the complex organisational and biological challenges that are involved. The research partnership has developed a shared understanding of biosecurity, and is well-equipped to provide strategically-based research output that will help MPI address border biosecurity priority areas.

The B3 programme has assembled research expertise and facilities from four research institutes to provide answers to difficult questions. The Collaboration includes all of the people needed to define the problems, evaluate their importance and then seek practical solutions to prevent pests from establishing in New Zealand. As a result, the B3 partnership is working on a strategically-directed programme of research that is designed to make a long-term impact on critical areas.

“Our progress so far shows what it takes to get a large organisation like MPI genuinely involved with research and to get people with different views and objectives to work together cohesively,” Stephenson says. “The agreement of the B3 partners to be involved in the programme and its goals is a major step in allowing a substantial science investment to make a tangible contribution to New Zealand’s future prosperity.”

In view of the multi-party nature of B3, its establishment and development has been complex and for the first four or five years the programme required patience and persistence to get the settings right. Based on this experience, a significant milestone in B3’s evolution was reached a few years ago when the programme was organised into five key biosecurity themes. Under these themes, the B3 partners could agree on research goals and establish a prioritised suite of research projects, which has provided an excellent foundation for collaboration.

MPI has signed up to the B3 Collaboration as a fully engaged end-user partner along with the Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Forest Owners Association. These partners, together with advice provided by the Environmental Protection Agency, provide a front-line perspective to ensure research is relevant and has a high probability of being used. The ground work has now been laid for open communication and collaboration to take place between all of the partnering organisations.

Further work is still needed, but Stephenson says, “Now that we have a better understanding of what is needed for effective partnership, there is excellent potential for highly productive collaboration between the organisations. This should maximise the chances that the expected outcomes will result and therefore the programme should continue to be very favourable for investment.”

Stephenson further notes that MPI has a critical role in identifying areas of research that will make a significant difference, honing priorities, maintaining focus on ‘fit-for-purpose’ output and driving output into practical use in policy and operations.

“Defining the problems is one of the most interesting challenges, as it involves thinking beyond daily routine to identify the radical changes that we should expect from sustained effort. Having the research consumers involved from the beginning helps with planning, including setting goals and defining the path for predictable delivery. More immediately, MPI is now using research outputs from B3 in planning ahead to deploy concepts where potential application has been demonstrated. MPI has developed an understanding of what is required to forward plan and invest in ideas that have demonstrated potential and in doing so further develop them so that they can be used.”

Some of the outputs from B3 researchers that MPI is now either using or planning ahead for investment in deployment include:

  • Tools that will help to define and evaluate uncertainty in risk analysis, including software that will assist with evaluating establishment likelihoods for new pests and diseases and a database to support
    assessment of threats posed by exotic organisms to indigenous ecosystems;
  • Bar coding” molecular diagnostic techniques, which are now being used routinely in MAF diagnostics and are assisting with rapid and reliable identification of difficult organisms, including insect larvae and eggs and fungal and bacterial pathogens;
  • Forensic technology to determine the origin of an intercepted pest;
  • Development of an objective method for determining if specified treatments have been applied effectively to imported fresh produce, and what this means in practice;
  • Development of smart trap technology to reduce the need for regular visits to surveillance traps;
  • Identification of pheromones which can be used for surveillance for early detection of new pests and to assist with their eradication;
  • A model to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of aerial pesticide application, to assist with containment and eradication of new pests and diseases;
  • An “eradication database” that is providing a compilation of information to explain why it has been feasible to conduct successful eradications and to use this accumulated knowledge to assist with good
    decision-making about investment in surveillance and eradication programmes;
  •  Provision of scientific advice to MPI Technical Advisory Groups to improve the robustness of critical decisions, including Painted apple moth and Red imported fire ant eradications, the Psa response to kiwifruit
    and the recent Queensland Fruit Fly detection;
  • Developing first-hand experience of MPI investigations and readiness and response processes, to provide a well informed resource able to respond promptly and appropriately when needed.
  • A growing number of useful additions to the scientific literature which form a useful resource for immediate use and are an enduring record of the research for future reference.