Stellar biosecurity helping Australia live long and prosper

Biosecurity officers in Sydney recently intercepted packets of galactic tomato seeds imported from Italy, which had previously been launched into space and returned to Earth in the Columbus space shuttle.

Head of Biosecurity Operations, Nico Padovan, said the NASA space seeds were an interesting and unusual find that potentially posed a biosecurity risk, as they could carry unknown plant pests or diseases from Italy—or even outer space.

“All seeds or plant material imported to Australia must meet our biosecurity conditions regardless of the country, or galaxy, they’ve arrived from,” Mr Padovan said.

“These seeds were launched into space on April 6, 1984, aboard NASA's Long Duration Exposure Facility on Space Shuttle Challenger and returned to Earth on January 20, 1990, on Space Shuttle Columbia.

“They were part of an outer space seed experiment to see if the weightlessness and long exposure to radiation in space affects the seeds' growth.

“The well-travelled seeds recently arrived in Australia undeclared and our colleagues at Australian Border Force referred them to our biosecurity officers.

“These particular seeds posed a relatively low risk, as they did not encounter alien life forms when in orbit and the importer is keeping them on display as a collector’s item and not for sowing purposes.”

The importer agreed to gamma irradiate the seeds to mitigate the biosecurity risk. Once the seeds were treated, they were released to the importer.

“While the risk was low, it is another example of the gravity of biosecurity and an important reminder to correctly declare your mail items and follow our biosecurity conditions if you are considering importing plant material or seeds to Australia,” Mr Padovan said.

“It can save you time and money, as well as ensure our industries and environment are not impacted by serious biosecurity risks.”

For more information on importing plant material or seeds to Australia, visit Importing plants and plant products.

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