Biosecurity keeping biological baddies at bay

21 April 2021

Biosecurity officers have intercepted petri dishes at the border, which were carrying unknown bacteria or fungi that could have posed a significant biological threat.

Head of Biosecurity at the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Andrew Tongue said each of the items could have posed a serious biosecurity risk to Australia.

“Petri dishes could potentially contain microorganisms or infectious agents that are exotic to Australia,” Mr Tongue said.

“As these particular microorganisms/infectious agents were imported without an import permit, a risk assessment was not carried out to determine what risk management measures were required to allow safe importation and use of the goods in Australian territory.

“Failure to have appropriate risk managements measures applied to the microorganisms/infectious agents could potentially result in the goods being inappropriately exposed to humans, animals, plants and the environment.

“This could potentially lead to outbreaks of disease that could seriously affect human and animal health, the environment and our agricultural industries.

“Thanks to our biosecurity measures at the border, these petri dishes were intercepted and destroyed.”

Some examples of significant diseases that could be present in items like these include:

  • Brucella spp. – there a number of species of Brucella that cause Brucellosis in animals and humans.  While some species of Brucella can be found within Australia, many are exotic and of significant biosecurity concern to animal and human health. Many Brucella species are also listed on Australia’s National Notifiable Disease List of Terrestrial Animals. Spread of these species has the potential to cause major livestock (e.g. cattle, sheep and goat) losses, damaging our valuable agriculture sector and export industry.
  • Yersinia pestis – the bacteria that causes Plague. Plague is responsible for the deadliest human pandemic recorded so far, the Black Death. Due to the human biosecurity risk it poses, and the bioterrorism/biocrime risk it poses, Y. pestis is a listed as a Listed Human Disease under the Biosecurity Act 2015 and Security Sensitive Biological Agent (SSBA).
  • Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungal that causes White Nose Syndrome in bats. Causing a visible white fungal growth on the wings and noses of infected bats, this cold-loving fungus has devastated bat populations in parts of the United States of America and Canada. It is not currently found in Australia but if it were to enter Australia, it could also devastate Australian native bat populations, including some that are listed as critically endangered.

“Our strict biosecurity system includes import conditions and measures at the border to manage the risks, but importers and members of the public have a role to play,” Mr Tongue said.

“You can do your part by being aware of our biosecurity conditions and keeping an eye out and acting on possible biosecurity risks within Australia.”

For more information biological imports and what is allowed to be imported into Australia, subject to import requirements visit the Biosecurity Import Conditions database.