I was pleased to see that earlier this month, the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, the Hon. David Littleproud, announced that the Australian Government will invest $86 million in establishing eight Adoption and Innovation Hubs across regional Australia, and that it will develop a Digital Foundations for Agriculture Strategy. Drought is a focus on the initiative, with the Hubs being a vehicle to harness research, development and innovation capabilities across Australia to build drought resilience in rural communities. The initiative links the Future Drought Fund (announced July 2020) to the National Agricultural Innovation Agenda and associated Agricultural Innovation report produced by Ernst & Young in March 2019. That report highlighted the importance of developing agriculture innovation precincts in Australia – precincts where researchers are co-located with industry, start-ups and accelerators/incubators to enable collaboration, idea generation and increase speed of concept development. All of these concepts align perfectly with CEAT’s vision and mission, which is –to build an agri-tech innovation ecosystem in Canberra where world-class research and technology is targeted to agricultural challenges independent of traditional disciplinary boundaries. We thus see exciting opportunities for the ANU and CSIRO – in partnership with other regionally-based innovation ecosystems – to contribute to the National Agricultural Innovation Agenda announced by David Littleproud.
Last month, the Chief Executive of CSIRO, Dr Larry Marshall, gave as speech at the National Press Club on the critical role of science and technology in addressing the challenges facing Australia – challenges such as how to secure a sustainable future for agricultural communities. As part of CSIRO’s strategy to address these challenges, he announced a new program of ‘missions’, with each mission being designed to accelerate the pace and scale at which solutions can be developed. Partnerships will be critical, with CSIRO needing to work with government, universities, industry and the community to co-create and deliver on the goals of each mission. Several of the missions (Future Protein and Drought Missions) provide an opportunity for the ANU and CSIRO to collaborate in new areas, and in doing so, hasten the pace at which innovative solutions to national challenges can be developed. It is with this in mind that CEAT is working with others at ANU to develop proposals that will enhance the impact of CSIRO’s missions.
A key aspect of CEAT’s Research Translation Initiative is the formation of Innovation Project Teams (IPTs) – made up of researchers from across the Precinct – to address agri-sector challenges and/or innovation obstacles. We see exciting opportunities whereby inter-disciplinary teams are assembled to develop solutions to complex agri-tech challenges. An great example of IPTs is the recent signing of a five-year collaboration agreement between ANU researchers and Medicago R&D Inc, starting with a $1M project to take place over 14 months. Medicago R&D Inc uses a proprietary plant-based technology to develop vaccines and protein-based therapeutics. Key to their technology is the production of Virus-Like Particles (VLPs) as vaccines. The ANU-Medicago research collaboration aims to develop new methods and tools to non-invasively monitor the growth and performance of plants used in the production of VLPs. In doing so, the research will help to optimise the biotechnology for plant-based vaccine development. The project will involve researchers from the ANU-node of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF), ANU’s Research School of Biology (RSB) and the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS). You can read more about the collaboration here.
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Owen Atkin, Director, CEAT.