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Novel sensor approaches to sniff out biosecurity threats (BMSB, QFF)

This project began as a five-year project that was completed in mid-2022. The project was then extended for another two years and will now finish in 2024.


With an increase in global trade comes increased biosecurity risk from unwanted pest insect incursions via importation pathways. There is a need for new tools and technologies that can rapidly and confidently detect pests pre-border and en route.


This ambitious project combines expertise in insect chemosensory science and bioengineering to develop novel sniffer technologies for the real time detection of pest insects based on their unique volatile fingerprints. There are two research streams to produce detection tools for two of New Zealand’s top unwanted invasive pests – the Queensland fruit fly (QFF) and brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB).


The first technology comprises a nature inspired sensor that can screen fresh produce and inanimate commodities arriving as cargo using powerful insect odorant receptors (iORs) that detect volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Researchers have assessed a combination of iORs and various biosensor platforms for their ability to detect QFF-specific VOCs in liquids. The focus is now on transferring this technology into the gas phase.


The second sensor is a low-cost portable sensor system for detecting VOCs from hitchhiker pests in containers during shipment or post border. The research team have targeted tridecane, the major component of the BMSB alarm pheromone. A portable prototype BMSB sensor, combining a specialised polymer-coated sensor with a front-end selectivity filter, has been developed, capable of detecting tridecane at concentrations consistent with expected levels in shipping containers.


These novel biosensors have the potential to become essential biosecurity tools for MPI and other key stakeholders involved in the importation of goods into New Zealand.


Contact Project Leader Melissa Jordan: [email protected]

Read an abstract from the first phrase of the project.