Rapidly-growing demand for genomics testing is behind the construction of a new facility able to run one million tests each year.
Tucked away at Bundamba on the outskirts of Brisbane, what will become Australia's largest genomics centre is taking shape.
The $11 million facility will allow Neogen Corporation to consolidate its operations after the US food, animal safety and genomics company entered the region five years ago.
Neogen Australasia senior regional director Bobby Creasman said they were conducting 35,000 to 40,000 tests each month.
Once complete, the new laboratories will enable the company to double its output.
"Neogen entered the market in Australia by acquiring the genomics testing lab from the University of Queensland in 2017 and the demand for genomic testing in the Australian, and even in the regional market, grew very rapidly," Mr Creasman said.
"So rapidly, in fact, that within six months of moving into the current facility, we realised that we were out of space."
The new building will span in excess of 3000 square metres and solar panels will be built over the car park to reduce the site's carbon footprint.
It will triple Neogen's laboratory and office spaces, while the warehouse will be increased fourfold.
The project has received an injection of capital from the state government's Advance Queensland Industry Attraction Fund.
Queensland Treasurer and Trade and Investment Minister Cameron Dick said the government was providing a pathway for Neogen to not only expand in the short-term but to make Queensland its home.
"This is a critically-important investment, not just into scientific testing in Queensland but also to support our primary producers," Mr Dick said.
"We'll have the biggest animal genomics laboratory in Australia, right here in Queensland.
"I think this is an important investment by our government at multiple levels to support the diversification of our economy, high-quality, high-level technical testing and also support primary production."
Critical service for livestock producers
In the food safety sector, Neogen provides rapid testing kits for contamination.
Mr Creasman said the company offers rapid sanitation testing as well as rapid allergen, pathogen and mycotoxin testing kits.
These tests have to be stored in a climate-controlled environment and a third of the new site's floorspace will be dedicated to this with a warehouse.
The other two-thirds of the building will be dedicated to genomics.
"Neogen's corporate vision has always been as global population increases, arable production land decreases," Mr Creasman said.
"Producers around the world have to be able to do more with less.
"Genomics is the perfect tool to do that because most of what we produce results for are production traits."
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Mr Creasman said tests usually come in the form of tissue or hair.
He said beef producers typically work with breed societies to run a sample through an evaluation and compare an animal against the national herd.
From a sample being collected to the data being returned, the process usually takes one month.
"From that sample we track DNA, multiplex the DNA and then test the DNA against known traits," he said.
"Then we return that analysis back out to industry for producers to make informed decisions in their breeding.
"We produce the genotypes, the genetic information, that then goes into Breedplan to determine the value of the animal."
Neogen doesn't just cater to beef and sheep producers, it can run tests on a variety of animals including pigs, poultry, shrimp and man's best friend.
"Surprisingly, we've seen a lot of growth in companion animal markers," Mr Creasman said.
"We're testing now for breed-specific traits in companion animals that then affect the health of those animals, so dogs, cats, all the furry friends that are part of our family."
A win for Queenslanders
Bundamba MP Lance McCallum said investments like this were attracting more highly-paid and highly-skilled jobs to the region.
"There's every reason for businesses to choose to come and set up their operations here in Bundamba and in Ipswich broadly, or indeed south east Queensland, and that's what we're seeing with Neogen," Mr McCallum said.
Mr Dick said primary producers had been some of the heroes of the Queensland economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There's still uncertainty in the world because of COVID and its impacts, but because we're such a safe place now, and the world knows that, our agricultural producers have not missed a beat during COVID."
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