UQ start-up to register first home-grown bioherbicide

University of Queensland (UQ) start-up BioHerbicides Australia Pty Ltd (BHA) is preparing to launch Australia’s first ‘home-grown’ bioherbicide, thanks to a second Commercialisation Australia grant.

This year’s $451,775 Early Stage Commercialisation grant follows the $50,000 Skills and Knowledge grant BHA received in 2011.

BHA was established by UQ’s main research commercialisation company, UniQuest, in 2010 to commercialise ‘Di-Bak Parkinsonia’, a root and stem-borne, fungal-based bioherbicide, developed by plant pathologist Dr Victor Galea, an Associate Professor in UQ’s Faculty of Science. The technology involves inserting a one-dose gelatine capsule into the tree trunk.

Parkinsonia (Parkinsonia aculeata) is native to the Americas and was introduced to Australia in the late 1800s for ornamental and shade purposes. It has now become one of Australia’s worst woody plant pests.

“We are very pleased to see BHA receive major recognition from the Commonwealth government in the form of half a million dollars to develop this scientific discovery as a commercially available product,” said UniQuest Managing Director, David Henderson.

“It’s a significant local research and development outcome from university-based endeavour, leading to both economic and environmental benefits for a broad cross-section of Australia,” Mr Henderson said.

“Weeds cost the Australian economy $4 billion and Queensland $600 million every year in lost agricultural production. An estimated $60 million per annum is spent on chemicals to control Parkinsonia in Australia. By registering Australia’s first bioherbicide, BHA is likely to gain a significant share of this market while helping land managers gain control over a wide-spread noxious weed.”

The Commercialisation Australia grant will help BHA complete the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) registration process, optimise operational and processing procedures, and establish strategic relationships with commercial partners keen to market the product to private, corporate and government landholders.

BHA’s bioherbicide has shown potential to overcome the significant physical and economical limitations of current chemical and mechanical Parkinsonia control methods, especially when applied to large areas.

“The environmental impacts of Parkinsonia are considerable. It generally invades waterways first, with infestations expanding outward to wetlands, flood plains and pastures.

“Wetlands are particularly vulnerable because Parkinsonia can impede access to watercourses, contribute to erosion, harbour feral animals, and take over vast tracts of floodplain,” explained Associate Professor Galea.

“Native plant species are replaced, leading to lower quality habitat for animals and impacting on the sustainability of places like national parks, which have high aesthetic, indigenous and tourist value.

“We’ve trialled the science behind the product successfully throughout Queensland and the Northern Territory. The overall infection success was very high, with some treated trees dying within six months, so we believe Di-Bak has the potential to virtually eradicate Parkinsonia from Australia,” Associate Professor Galea said.

APVMA registration for Di-Bak Parkinsonia will be a key achievement for BHA, as it qualifies the product’s safety and scientific claims, making it a more attractive proposition for customers and investors looking to contribute to solving a major environmental problem.

Di-Bak Parkinsonia is one of several bioherbicides BHA plans to develop following confirmation that the technology is transferrable to for other weeds of national significance such as Athol pine, Prickly Acacia and Mimosa. A $300,000 grant from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) has enabled UQ to appoint a full-time researcher to assist BHA with further R&D on three large pastoral stations.

Di-Bak Parkinsonia registration and production of pilot batches are expected in 2013.

Media enquiries: Leanne Wyvill +61 7 3365 4037, 0409 767 199 or l.wyvill@uniquest.com.au
Commercial enquiries: Craig McDonald +61 7 3365 4037, 0447 248 278 or cmcdonald@uniquest.com.au

Associate Professor Victor Galea – Image 1Image 2
Capsule being inserted into a Parkinsonia trunk
Untreated (control) plot of Parkisonia after 108 weeks at Glenariff, QLD
Bioherbicide treated plot of Parkisonia after 108 weeks at Glenariff, QLD

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