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Biodata and biotechnology: Opportunity and challenges for Australia

By John S Mattick

This new ASPI report canvasses the extraordinary recent developments in genome sequencing and genetic engineering, which will transform all biological enterprises, including healthcare, among the most important parts of the global economy. It argues that there is a once-in- generation opportunity for Australia to play a leading role in a major economic and revolution with digital deliverables, capitalising on our high quality biomedical science, agricultural R&D and healthcare systems

The report identifies a number of elements for Australia to realize this opportunity. First and foremost, a national strategic and action plan is required for the collection and integration of genomic, clinical and smart sensor data for healthcare, and the development of advanced analytical software and point-of-care reporting systems, which can be exported to the world. This plan needs to be resourced by the Australian government, as a major public good infrastructure project. 

Such information will be part of the very fabric of healthcare and drug development in the future. More broadly, genomic information will be used in infection tracing, customs, quarantine, protection of commercial rights, quality control, provenance, security and policing, among others. It will accelerate the identification of valuable traits in animals, plants and microorganisms. Genetic engineering can now be done with speed, sophistication and precision that were unimaginable just a few years ago, and will enhance the efficiency, quality and range of biological production.

There are resourcing, privacy, vulnerabilities, sensitivities and national security issues to consider, protections to be put in place, and social licenses to be obtained.  Big-data analysis skills need be taught in science and engineering, and built into research institutions as well as health, agricultural and environmental management enterprises and agencies.