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Our investment in emerging areas of science

A key mechanism to solving the greatest challenges is our investment in cutting-edge, transformative science – science that creates impact.

Our Future Science Platforms (FSPs) are multidisciplinary investments that are reinventing existing industries, creating new industries for Australia, and providing a better future for us all. These strategic initiatives are turning the greatest challenges into opportunities, where innovative science and technology can break through seemingly impossible problems to improve Australia’s sustainability and prosperity.

Through FSPs, we’re also growing the capability of a new generation of researchers and allowing Australia to attract the best students and experts to work with us on future science.

Since 2016, we’ve invested in 11 areas of promising new science under our FSPs. Together with our partners, we’ve developed new technologies and platforms that are changing the way we live. During this year, the program grew to a total annual investment of $90 million.

Our Future Science Platforms

Future Science Platform

Achievements in 2019–20

Active Integrated Matter: ground-breaking advances at the interface of big data, advanced autonomous systems and materials science

Our flow electrochemical reactor, designed using computational fluid dynamic modelling and made using high surface area 3D printed materials, can accelerate a continuous chemical reaction by up to 30 times and dramatically improve productivity.

Our flexible robot skin protects the vital components of robotic devices from the extreme radiant heat of fires. This protective skin allows obotic devices to be deployed in reconnaissance and victim recovery, avoiding unnecessary risk to emergency services personnel.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: collaboratively discovering the next generation of scientific instruments that are enabled by data

We analysed animal and plant data and proposed new methods to select for higher yields and more resilient strains.

We developed privacy preserving machine learning algorithms on federated data, and computer vision algorithms for identifying anomalous events, such as by-catch on fishing vessels or illegal fishing.

We also integrated spatial, temporal, and genomic information about the environment for tracking and managing threats, such as germs or invasive species.

Deep Earth Imaging: imaging subsurface rock properties to unlock the potential of the greater depths in the Earth

Government agencies and industry adopted remotely sensed land deformation data to monitor groundwater resources.

We received a provisional patent for automated rock typing to speed up the identification of rock types and the acquisition of knowledge about their properties and the resources they host.

We developed a new algorithm to harness more of the seismic wavefield to derive more detailed images of the deep earth to guide exploration for mineral and energy resources.

Digiscape: building a common big data infrastructure to support Australian farmers and land managers

We licensed the GraincastTM crop yield forecasting system to Digital Agriculture Services, opening a path to it becoming an export technology. We also licensed the WaterWise digital irrigation scheduling system to Goanna Ag, who will take it to Australian farmers.

We launched two software tools at the environment and agriculture interface: LOOC-C, which allows farmers to quickly assess whether carbon farming will work on their property; and 1622-WQ, which determines if nitrogen from a sugar farm is heading towards the Great Barrier Reef.

Environomics: reinventing how we measure and monitor ecosystem health, predicting environmental change and finding new resources in nature

We discovered a simple way to estimate how long a species lives using DNA. The discovery revealed the lifespans of extinct species such as woolly mammoths and of long-lived and vulnerable species such as whales and turtles.

We collected ‘eDNA’ (the fragments of DNA that animals in the ocean shed) and used this data to quickly and accurately identify the presence of important species of fishes, plants and insects. We are developing a strategy for how Australia’s marine reserves can be monitored with eDNA.

By reading the DNA sequences and studying the pollen that bees collect on their bodies when they visit flowers, we measured plant biodiversity.

We also developed a fast and inexpensive way to read DNA sequences from the millions of preserved specimens in Australia’s National Collections. This will fast-track how we identify species and how we find new and useful biological resources.

Hydrogen Energy Systems: creating new science, capabilities and technologies across the emerging hydrogen value chain to support new Australian industries and large-scale emissions reduction

We developed a Hydrogen Industry mission, which will accelerate the translation of our multidisciplinary science and technology at an industry-scale. Our hydrogen energy technoeconomics work created new projects for our researchers and for local and international customers.

We took our world-class plant biology and industry-proofed nitrogen-fixing enzymes and laid the scientific foundation for a game-changing technology to produce hydrogen from sunlight, air, and water.

Precision Health: engaging with communities to create an integrated platform to manage a person’s health through tailored food, nutrition and lifestyle interventions

We launched the Innovations in Food for Precision Health initiative, which considers individual and population-level health challenges to give us a better understanding of current and future consumer dietary needs and the environmental, health and economic impacts of food consumption. The initiative will strengthen Australia’s science and innovation relationship as part of Australia’s Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Singapore.

We partnered with Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University to work on the Healthy Ageing Project. Australian and Singaporean health, nutrition and data scientists will explore the cultural differences in people’s food and lifestyle behaviours as they age.

Probing Biosystems: obtaining real-time information from living organisms to provide customised health and medical interventions

NeuroLiB is currently under validation in a prospective clinical trial. This trial will guide clinical translational and generation of commercialisation pathways for this novel diagnostic blood test, which diagnoses traumatic brain injury.

We partnered with GenesisCare, the largest provider of cancer care services in Australia to develop novel theranostic agents for targeting difficult-to-treat cancers.

We secured four patents covering novel technologies across multiple MedTech domains, including implantable sensors, diagnostics, therapeutics and small molecule encapsulation.

Responsible Innovation: how we respond to the significant challenges presented by innovation in science and technology

By reviewing the risk governance of nanotechnology research and development in Australia over the last 15 years, we identified a range of well-developed practices in responsible innovation within our organisation along with opportunities to address social risks posted by new technologies more systematically.

Our research, in collaboration with our Investigative Analytics program identified a range of specific conditions that are likely to affect the confidence of end users who are tasked with making high-risk, high-consequence decisions that rely on predicted data.

Space Technology: identifying and developing the science to leapfrog traditional technologies and find new areas for Australian industry to work in

We developed a smart, power-efficient on-board hyperspectral data processing system for small satellites that can get more satellite data to the ground in a short period of time; it will be launched onboard CSIROSat-1 – our first CubeSat – in 2021. This data is used to monitor disasters, in precision agriculture and natural resource management, and in many other applications.

We also enhanced the international Open Data Cube satellite data management and analysis platform to include new types of data, including hyperspectral data, to increase the use and impact of these data types.

Synthetic Biology: artificial engineering of biological systems

Using directed evolution, we made coral more tolerant to temperature-induced bleaching. This assisted the coral to adapt and survive hotter conditions and has the potential to reduce the impact of reef bleaching from marine heat waves.

We also developed platform technology that enables an engineered bacterial strain to be used as the first step towards developing microbial factories to sustainably produce chemicals that currently come from non-renewable sources.

Digiscape

During 2019–20, our Graincast™ crop production forecasting technology was licensed to Digital Agriculture Services, creating a pathway for it to become an export technology. Handling grain in Australia costs approximately $1 billion each year. The Graincast™ app allows farmers to monitor their soil moisture and yield potential to help with sowing and harvesting decisions. This will help to improve harvest, transport and storage efficiency – and as a result – the national economy. Read more at: Graincast™, Commercialising our intellectual property and GraincastTM: Australia's breakthrough grain yield forecasting technology.

Under Digiscape, we also launched a tool for landholders, LOOC-C (‘look see’), to mitigate greenhouse gases. This will help farmers and land managers discover possible carbon projects for their land, assess whether they can participate profitably in greenhouse gas mitigation and maximise the benefits to the land from carbon markets.

We also signed a licensing agreement for WaterWise, an initiative that provides Australian irrigators with digital strategies to apply irrigation water at the right time to optimise yield. Predicting the future is true breakthrough science. It means for the first time, growers can see the water stress of their crops at any point and predict their future water needs.

A brown field of wheat with some green trees in the background. There are white clouds in the light blue sky
Our Digiscape Future Science Platform is harnessing the digital revolution for Australian farmers and land managers.

Environomics

This year, we formed a joint working group with the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment to co-develop a strategy for monitoring Commonwealth Marine Reserves with eDNA technologies. Animals in the ocean shed cells and fragments of DNA in the water. We collected water samples, extracted the DNA present, and used barcoding – a global scientific project that identifies a unique sequence of DNA for each species – to identify the species present. Our scientists compared results from eDNA sampling to results gained via more traditional methods, such as counting fish via underwater video footage, to help barcode important species of fishes, plants and insects.