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Engaging with end-users of Invasomics helps to prevent a stinky problem

New Zealand’s borders are highly vulnerable to the continuous threat of new pests and diseases with the potential to cause immense environmental and agricultural damage.

When a new species is detected post-border, Aotearoa New Zealand currently has a low capacity for generating a rapid genome-informed management response. The Invasomics project is geared towards answering this challenge, with the aim of finding innovative and customised solutions to better prevent, target, and manage biological invasions.

What we are doing

Stinky bug

The Invasomics project is gathering data and developing a machine-learning framework that characterises the invasiveness of a single high-priority species to test a pilot model.

They are starting with the brown marmorated stink bug, an insect pest which could decimate our fruit and vegetable industries if it made it to our shores; their foul smell also makes them an unpleasant home invader.

Dr Manpreet Dhami and Dr Angela McGaughran have been working in partnership with MPI on innovative new processes to help predict the invasive potential of pests. This engagement with biosecurity researchers and practitioners has been essential to get the Invasomics project off the ground. Project leaders held workshops in 2022 with MPI representatives, alongside a well-attended Biosecurity Bonanza webinar.

This early involvement of MPI has proved essential. “The feedback from MPI provided critical direction to focus our initial efforts on BMSB, and it has strengthened our relationship,” Angela said.

It’s hoped this will lead to tools that Biosecurity officers can use at the border and in the field, if a pest invasion threat is likely or a new pest is discovered, to better understand the biology of the invader and inform the management strategy needed. “This is why end-user involvement at the beginning of this work is so important.” Manpreet added.

A special Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution meeting on Invasomics in November 2022, hosted by the world’s first Invasomics Hub, bought together researchers to continue developing this relatively new field of research

Potential impact

The researchers hope that advanced genomic techniques will help us to understand what it takes to be a successful invader by identifying drivers of invasive potential and species response to changing environments.”

A typical border interception scenario would involve sequencing the genome of the intercepted species (whether known or unknown) and running the resulting sequence through the Invasomics pipeline.

The pipeline would compare the genomic traits of the individual with the predefined matrix of genomic characteristics associated with invasiveness to generate an invasiveness score (a metric of how serious a biosecurity threat it might be). The invasiveness score would then be used in parallel with other methods in the MPI toolkit, such as climate analysis and pathway analysis, to determine the appropriate response.

Read here for more information on Invasomics