The rabbit, an introduced pest, is an example of a biosecurity threat.

Image: CSIRO

Security systems are everywhere. Your home probably has locks on the doors. These protect you and your home, preventing people from entering and stealing items or causing damage. Biosecurity works in a similar way, except it involves protecting an area from the damage caused by pests and diseases.

CSIRO launched its Biosecurity Flagship yesterday. It’s the latest of the National Research Flagships designed to tackle some of Australia’s greatest challenges. This includes protecting Australia from the growing threat of environmental and economic damage caused by introduced pests and diseases.

An example is the European rabbit, a pest that continues to threaten Australia. Rabbits cause soil erosion with their burrowing and by removing vegetation. They’re estimated to cause about 600 million Australian dollars worth of damage every year.

Biosecurity doesn’t just protect the environment and economy – it protects people as well. New infectious diseases are evolving and emerging, and most of them come from animals. Preventing the spread of diseases, understanding how diseases spread from animals to humans, and developing treatments for new diseases are important areas of biosecurity.

Australia’s geographic isolation and history of strong quarantine laws mean many pests and diseases common around the world are rare here, or not found at all. Increasing trade and international travel increases the risk of pests and diseases making their way here.

CSIRO’s Biosecurity Flagship will bring together researchers from a number of fields including zoology, ecology, agricultural sciences, mathematics and statistics. The flagship will address Australia’s biggest biosecurity challenges, such as preventing the entry and spread of pests and diseases, dealing with outbreaks and minimising the impact of established pests.

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