Mobile labs to tackle fruit fly investigations

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The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has today received two newly fitted mobile field laboratories to improve its ability to manage the diagnostic work required in the event of a fruit fly detection.

The Ministry has this year dealt with two separate individual fruit fly finds in targeted surveillance traps in Whangarei. Each response required the analysis of hundreds of kilos of fruit collected in the area of the finds, plus the identification of any insects trapped there.

In both responses a mobile field laboratory was set up in a portable building with further space in the temporary field headquarters modified for laboratory work.

“These facilities were cramped and took some days to become fully operational,” says Veronica Herrera, MPI’s Director Investigation Diagnostic Centres and Response.

“Modifications were costly and time consuming and had to be removed when the investigation ended.

“The new labs are designed to be picked up and transported to the field by truck and can be ‘plugged in’ to our field HQ’s power and water systems. This means our laboratory function can be up and running within a day of the response starting.”

In a fruit fly investigation, several laboratory tasks take place - the examination of any insects trapped in the high-risk area, the slicing of fruit collected from the area to look for fruit fly eggs or larvae; and the incubation of any fallen fruit that may contain eggs or larvae so any hatching insects could be identified.

Dr Herrera says there is a large amount of potential risk material examined from a fruit fly surveillance zone during a fruit fly investigation and it is not appropriate to move this material out of the zone for laboratory examination.

“We need this mobile laboratory capability to be moved into the surveillance zone to maintain quarantine,” she says.

The new portable labs meet Fruit Fly containment requirements and have suitable lighting and ventilation flows to ensure that quarantine is maintained

“The two units work in relationship with each other and include adequate space for the entomologists (insect specialists).”

Dr Herrera says the Ministry now has better examination and inspection facilities, improved containment, greater flexibility at the site headquarters and cheaper establishment costs.

“Our deployment time is reduced and this means field samples can now begin to be given laboratory examination earlier in the response.”

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