The science behind advancing Australian agriculture

Chief Scientist Phil Reeves APVMA
13 August 2018
Phil Reeves, Chief Scientist

Australia has a modern agricultural industry and our farmers are among the most efficient in the world. Part of the reason for this success is industry’s focus on developing innovative systems through research and design. Specifically, to increase the efficiency of food production levels in Australia, while also improving sustainability.

Our work as an agvet chemical regulator contributes to Australia’s agricultural sustainability by enabling access to innovative technologies and their commercialisation. We assist advancements in Australian agriculture by ensuring efficient regulatory frameworks are in place so that industry have better access to safe and effective chemical products.

Technologies such as nanotechnology and biotechnology have the potential to increase crop yields and support more sustainable production. One such technology involves the biological process of interference RNA (RNAi), which has been investigated in human and animal therapies, and in the development of agricultural products.

Of particular interest to the APVMA is RNAi technology sprayed on to the foliage of plants to protect them against pests. RNAi technology may play a valuable role in the next generation of crop protection products. It has an improved human and animal health risk profile, and limited off-target effects in comparison to conventional pesticides.

To develop interference-RNA crop protection products, scientists identify a target gene in a pest, and its nucleotide sequence. Double-stranded RNA (ds-RNA) with a directed sequence to the product of the target gene is then manufactured, and sprayed onto foliage. When pests directly ingest or absorb the ds‑RNA, the ds-RNA enters their cells and the complex biological process known as RNAi begins.