Featured News Developing Northern Australia: greenlight for crucial Northern Australia projects

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Thu, 19 Oct 2017

Developing Northern Australia: greenlight for crucial Northern Australia projects

Pearls, pests, poxvirus and pasture: JCU, together with their industry partners, have picked up more than $6.5 million in federal funding for landmark research to boost crucial industries for northern Australia.

The Government’s Co-operative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRC DNA) has announced its first funding round. Submissions for funding were developed in detailed collaboration with JCU, with the funding granted to industry partners.

Professor Dean Jerry is part of a group awarded more than $1.3M to look at breeding pearl oysters resistant to the devastating Juvenile Pearl Oyster Mortality Syndrome (JOMS).

“The disease causes losses of more than 90% of affected stock and is threatening the economic viability of pearling in many regions,” said Professor Jerry.

He said up to now there had been no effort to conduct a selective breeding program to produce pearl oysters with a degree of resistance to JOMS.

Meanwhile, Professors Ian Atkinson and Jeremy VanDerWal with their industry partners, will use an Internet of Things network featuring environmental sensors, drones and big data analytics to develop strategic pest management programs.

“Conventional management of such threats such as weeds is not suited to the vast, harsh landscapes of Northern Australia, and traditional methods have been largely ineffective in many places,” said Professor VanDerWal.

He said JCU and its industry partners will use the $1.5M granted by the CRC to develop a pilot program on the approximately one million acre Tipperary Station in the Northern Territory.

Improving agricultural productivity is on the cards for Professor Chris Gardiner and his industry network too, after receiving a grant of more than $2.8M.

Legumes-based pastures are well known to be necessary to improve livestock productivity and the sustainability of grasslands. But until very recently, few if any sown tropical pasture legumes have proved to be broadly adapted to this vast northern tropical clay soil region of Northern Australia.

The group will research the best way to establish paddocks of Progardes Desmanthus legumes – a variety discovered and developed by Professor Gardiner – and demonstrate their benefits to the beef and livestock industries.

(For the earlier story of how Professor Gardiner tracked down and analysed abandoned and long-forgotten CSIRO research sites to discover the new legume varieties, see link here.)

Last but not least, Professor Scott Ritchie, together with his industry and research partners, will be working to prevent poxviruses disfiguring crocodile skins.

The skins are produced for the high-end fashion market. Any skin with lesions is rejected because it will be visible in the finished product. With more than 35 % of skins affected by viral lesions, the estimated economic loss is more than $11 million per year to the Northern Australian economy.

The group will use a grant of more than $1.1M to develop and apply control strategies to prevent these diseases and reduce their transmission.


The CRC is a core element of the Australian Government’s agenda for developing the north. The CRC will assist businesses, governments and researchers to work together to identify opportunities for business and growth in the north. The CRC will be industry-led, located in the north, and have an initial focus on areas where the north has particular strengths, including agriculture, food, and tropical health. It will bring together industry, research organisations, all northern jurisdictions, and international partners in a collaborative industry-led R&D venture.


Professor Jeremy VanDerWal
E: Jeremy.vanderwal@jcu.edu.au

Professor Dean Jerry
E: dean.jerry@jcu.edu.au

Professor Chris Gardiner
E: Chris.gardiner@jcu.edu.au

Professor Scott Ritchie
E: Scott.ritchie@jcu.edu.au