Bioplatforms Australia, the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG), and the Safeguarding Australia through Biotechnology Response and Engagement (SABRE) Alliance have joined forces in a strategic partnership to establish the Ricin Genomics and Global Origins Initiative.
Amid evolving national defence requirements, the need for swift responses to threats, reduced warning times, and strategic surprise prevention has never been more pressing. The application of ‘omics technologies presents a unique opportunity to address defence’s unique scientific challenges.
Ricin, a highly potent cytotoxic protein, is derived from the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis). This plant, known for its economic importance and ease of cultivation, is found in various tropical and subtropical regions across the globe. With its potential to be illicitly exploited for the production of the deadly toxin, ricin, the castor bean poses a unique challenge to national security. Compounding this challenge is the availability of online resources describing crude ricin extraction methods, making it a persistent threat in criminal activities.
When ricin is intercepted in Australia, it can manifest in various forms, such as powder, mist, or pellets. In these cases, traditional methods of identifying ricin based on physical seed features become ineffective. The only reliable identifier left is genomic information.
The Ricin Genomics and Global Origins Initiative is:
- Establishing a Ricin Seed Genomics Reference Repository
Central to the initiative is the creation of an extensive ricin seed genomics reference repository. The repository is being meticulously curated, with the inclusion of ricin seeds from diverse national and international cultivars. This invaluable resource is poised to support researchers and experts in their exploration of the genomic diversity of the castor bean plant.
- Adopting Data-Driven Models for Geographical Identification
To further enhance our understanding of the origins of ricin, the initiative is pioneering data-driven modelling tools. These innovative tools leverage the power of genomics to pinpoint the geographical source of sequenced ricin seeds, providing invaluable insights for decision-makers in the realm of national security.
Aligned with the SABRE Alliance’s mission to enhance biological threat preparedness, this collaborative effort between defence, industry, and academia seeks to leverage existing sovereign technologies to provide immediate decision support tools and develop innovative solutions tailored to national security challenges.