Smithson Environmental news and blog

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Our Sample Testing Portal is available!

We are delighted to announce to both existing and potential clients that our Sample Submission Portal is up and running, and we are looking forward to accepting your samples for testing through our online form!  Requests for Avian testing kits are also being accepted via our online form.

Our PBFD and Polyomavirus Tests

We use dry blood spots to test your birds for PBFD and Polyomavirus.  You can collect samples using our test kits.  To request sample kits for avian  testing, go to our Sample Testing Portal and click Request Test Kits.  To submit samples collected, go to the Sample Testing Portal and click submit.  Happy Christmas. 

Testing Birds for Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease

At the end of last year I received a call from Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre about their rescued parrots and cockatoos.  They were concerned that Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) may be present within wild birds in Western Australia.  There was a risk that the disease might spread from and among Kanyana’s recently rescued parrots, and also then spread to their endangered Black Cockatoos. 




PBFD is an infectious virus that affects birds in the parrot family.  The disease is often severe, causing feather, claw and beak degeneration, along with other resulting infections.  There is no treatment, and the disease often results in the affected bird’s eventual death.  Some birds with no symptoms may act as disease carriers, and in its initial stages disease symptoms are often weak or absent, so the high infection rate between birds means prevention of cross-infection is challenging.




Kanyana was sampling all incoming birds by taking a tiny amount of blood that was sent to a laboratory for testing.  However, their existing PBFD testing service was shuttling their birds’ samples from Perth to the Eastern states, and then on to a laboratory in South Africa for analysis, all by post.  This often resulted in in lengthy delays between sampling and receiving their birds’ results, so increasing the risks of disease transfer.




In stepped Smithson Environmental!  We developed and validated a sensitive genetic test for presence of PBFD in bird blood using a technique similar to DNA Fingerprinting.  Because a negative PBFD result might be caused by other problems such as poor sample quality, we also developed a control genetic test that determined the gender of the bird – a different DNA Fingerprint is obtained from female parrots compared to male parrots.




We are delighted to be able to offer our genetic testing to rescue birds at Kanyana!  We hope that this will reduce the risk of spread of this disease, and increase the chances of rehabilitation and rehoming.  Our validated test is now available to vets and pet owners on request.



Does my sick tree have Phytophthora (dieback)?

I am often asked "does my sick tree have Phytophthora"?

Phytophthora (dieback) is a type of fungus that infects plant roots and surrounding soil.  Phytophthora cinnamomi is the nastiest type of this fungus in Western Australia, as it kills many plants.  This is especially true for our native flora, where high susceptibility means many endangered plants and communities are threatened, but is also true for our garden plants including fruit trees - avocado and papaya being particularly susceptible.  Phytophthora cinnamomi was introduced from south-east Asia and is considered (like the cane toad) one of the world's worst alien invasive species!  Phytophthora cinnamomi spreads most easily by water-carried spores and in moist soil, and new infections will peak when soil is wet and there are puddles of standing water.

Symptoms of Phytophthora cinnamomi infection can often be confused with other diseases and deficiencies, so the best way to prevent infection and spread is professional testing. Samples for testing can be collected professionally or by the block owner - here I am sampling from a sick Banksia.  I am looking just below soil level and under the bark for the characteristic cinnamon brown discolouration showing the disease front.  Recently infected trees may have this disease front in the root zone, so roots may need to be investigated.  Soil is also sampled.  Samples will then be taken to our labs for testing.

There are many advantages to a block owner in confirming Phytophthora cinnamomi presence: asick trees can be treated with phosphite, you can take action to prevent spread of the disease, and any new plantings can maximise use of Phytophthora-resistant varieties.