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Saturday, June 19, 2021

$3 million investment to protect biodiversity and biosecurity

The University of Canberra (UC) is collaborating with The Australian National University (ANU) and Diversity Arrays Technology (DArT) to protect Australia’s future biodiversity and biosecurity.

A total of $3 million will be invested into a big data platform powered by transformative genomics and populated with thousands of species of flora and fauna by DArT. It will be accessible to users all over the world to track the impacts of events like bushfires and assist with the management of natural ecosystems. Over $1 million from the funding will come from the ACT Government’s Priority Investment Program to support the collaboration.

ACT Assistant Minister for Economic Development, Tara Cheyne, said that the ACT Government’s Priority Investment Program enables projects connected to industry, research and the tertiary education sector to attract investment and to grow both established and emerging priority areas of Canberra’s economy.

“This platform that has been built by local Canberra company DArT will turbo-charge the research capabilities of people working in plant and animal biodiversity conservation, natural resource management, agri-technology and biosecurity,” Ms Cheyne said.

“The project will create up to 10 new jobs and is a wonderful example of local collaboration between our tertiary education sectors and local industry.”

DArT is based at UC and has accumulated 100 years’ worth of genetic data in plants and animals. DArT director Dr Andrzej Kilian said that this data is a powerful way to manage our environment.

“The fate of biodiversity is intrinsically connected with the future of humanity… we simply cannot survive if much further damage to other organisms on our planet is done through our short-sighted, short-term profit driven actions,” he said.

 “Biodiversity is interconnected in ways we simply do not fully understand, in fact we have just started scratching the surface of the complex web of interactions through ecological research.”

The big data platform will be used by government agencies, the resources industry, and researchers to better manage Australia’s ecology by tracking changes in biodiversity. Part of the project is already underway, focusing on the impact of the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20 to help identify what plant and animal species died and what has recovered.

“We have to start thinking more about the value of biodiversity in a more systematic way with a fuller understanding that further decline puts our own existence in peril,” explained Dr Kilian.

“In a typical human way we react and think about such issues like preserving diversity only when disaster happens – the fires during our previous summer are a good example.”

Acting UC Vice-Chancellor, Professor Geoff Crisp said the University’s contribution to this important project derives from its long-standing collaboration with DArT.

“Imagine the significance of this platform in helping to save our ecosystems,” he said. “UC is excited to further strengthen our relationship with a local company that is doing ground-breaking research, both in Australia and internationally.”
ANU Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brian Schmidt said “we must innovate and collaborate to protect Australia’s incredible biodiversity from catastrophic events”, such as Black Summer bushfires, as they become more frequent and destructive.

“As the national university, ANU is committed to projects that build Australia’s resilience and capabilities for the future. We’re proud to contribute our established expertise in biology data sciences and our brightest students to this initiative,” he sai
“We are excited to work with UC and the ACT Government on this important project.”

The development of the platform in Canberra and the subsequent international commercialisation hopes to produce high-value, knowledge-based jobs for the local economy, making Canberra a world leader in the development of the technology.

Dr Kilian said that the hope is the platform will expand in the future.

“The new platform will be integrated with our current big data platform which we use in agriculture to help farmers all around the world,” he said.

“Our plan is to expand their use of our services beyond genomics, to start storing and using all the different types of data we need to more sustainably use the natural resources we have.”

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