What on earth? Customs stops import of 'galactic seeds'
AUSTRALIAN Biosecurity has celebrated after officers in Sydney intercepted packets of "galactic” tomato seeds imported from Italy.
The seeds had previously been launched into space and returned to Earth in the Columbus space shuttle.
Head of biosecurity operations Nico Padovan said the NASA space seeds were "an interesting and unusual find that potentially posed a biosecurity risk”, as they could carry unknown plant pests or diseases from Italy - or even outer space.
"All seeds or plant material imported to Australia must meet our biosecurity conditions regardless of the country, or galaxy, they've arrived from,” he said.
The seeds entered space on April 6, 1984 on NASA's Long Duration Exposure Facility on Space Shuttle Challenger and returned to Earth on January 20, 1990, on Space Shuttle Columbia.
"They were part of an outer space seed experiment to see if the weightlessness and long exposure to radiation in space affects the seeds' growth.
"The well-travelled seeds recently arrived in Australia undeclared and our colleagues at Australian Border Force referred them to our biosecurity officers.
"These particular seeds posed a relatively low risk, as they did not encounter alien life forms when in orbit and the importer is keeping them on display as a collector's item and not for sowing purposes.”
The importer agreed to gamma irradiate the seeds to mitigate the biosecurity risk. Once treated, they were released to the importer.