Bioherbicide crusaders enlist graziers

Natural disease agents being used in Queensland weed wars


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Suppository: The bioherbicide capsules contain the three strains of fungi that work best in hot and dry, hot and wet, and mild conditions. Picture: Sally Cripps.

Suppository: The bioherbicide capsules contain the three strains of fungi that work best in hot and dry, hot and wet, and mild conditions. Picture: Sally Cripps.

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Graziers can help scientists in their bio-prospecting quest for fungus that cause disease by notifying them of any unusual sickness in their plants.

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Graziers aren’t usually cast in the same mould as Sherlock Holmes in his deerstalker cap, but that’s how BioHerbicides Australia likes to think of them.

The University of Queensland startup company is hoping its Parkinsonia-killing biological agent will receive APVMA approval within weeks, but in the meantime is urging landholders to be on the lookout for weeds under stress to help them in their quest to rid the west of infestations that are robbing people of millions of dollars in productivity every year.

Spokesman Ian Chant said that nature finds ways to kill weeds and it was his company’s job to identify how it was done, so they could replicate it in the lab.

“We’re on the lookout for weeds that are being stressed,” he said. “Dieback in Parkinsonia is an example.

“You could say that we were bio-prospecting for agents that induce sickness.

“We ask the community to help identify these causes. There’s a real opportunity when people see things happening out in the paddock.

“The more eyes and ears we have out there in the paddock the better.”

It was the eagle eye of Northern Territory Landcare officer Colleen Westover in 2004 that led to today’s fungi-filled capsule being developed.

She noticed Parkinsonia trees experiencing naturally-occuring dieback and sent in samples to see if UQ could find out what was causing their death.

Three strains of native Australian fungi have since been tested and refined into a gelatine capsule of colonised millet seed that needs only one more module of 12 to be approved by APVMA to become commercially available.

It’s taken 14 years to get to this point, but that’s not unusual according to BHA plant pathologist Ken Goulter.

“it’s how the commercialisation of science works,” he said. “It’s a slow process.”

Researchers have identified organisms that could work in controlling prickly acacia and mimosa pigra but are not as far along with testing for these.

“We’re at the greenhouse trial stage with the prickly acacia one,” Ian Chant said. “We’re looking at specificity, to see that it doesn’t kill other things.”

He said the capsules wouldn’t be a direct replacement of herbicides but an adjunct.

“You can use it round watercourses, and you don’t need facemasks.”

The story Bioherbicide crusaders enlist graziers first appeared on North Queensland Register.

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