A scholarship has allowed Murdoch University PhD student Matthew Tan to work with leading Japanese researchers in a bid to prevent a potentially devastating pine tree pest from entering Australia.
Matthew Tan this week returned from Tsukuba near Tokyo, where he learnt how to collect field samples and undertake molecular and morphological identification of a pine tree pest known as a pine wood nematode (PWN).
His research has been co-supervised by the Department of Agriculture and Food’s Senior Nematologist Vivien Vanstone and Murdoch University Professor of Agricultural Biotechnology, Mike Jones.
“PWN’s are a major problem in Japan and China, with the pest recently found in Portugal and Spain,” Mr Tan said.
While they are yet to make their way into Australia, the opportunity to learn more enables us to prevent them from entering the country and to be ready if they do arrive.
“The samples collected will help address a real biosecurity issue given the Australian pine sawlog production industry is worth about $800 million a year,” he said.
“As a result PWN has been classed an emergency plant pest because it will have a serious economic impact if it comes into Australia.
“The pest has a fascinating life cycle, which involves them high jacking a ride on newly emerged pine beetles from their pupae stage to reach the top of the tree where they rapidly multiply, infesting the tree which dies within weeks from water stress.
“Using pine beetles also enable the pest to cross distances to infect other trees.”
Mr Tan said the trip provided a valuable new perspective on molecular and morphological identification and also what to look for in the field.
The scholarship was awarded jointly by the Australasian Plant Pathology Society, the Phytopathological Society of Japan and the Australia-Japan Foundation.
Murdoch supervisor Prof Mike Jones said the damage caused by plant parasitic nematodes was often under-estimated.
“Matthew’s work on developing new molecular approaches to identify plant parasitic nematode of biosecurity concern is unique, and his training in Japan will broaden his expertise and enable him to become a leader in this field,” he said.
“His overall project is supported by the CRC for National Plant Biosecurity, which emphasises the need for more trained researchers in the field of plant nematology.”