Every year, viral diseases wreak havoc on tomato and cucurbit crops worldwide, amounting to EUR 3,5 billion in harvest losses in Europe alone. The EU-funded Virtigation project has been launched to combat emerging viral diseases in tomatoes, cucumber, melon, pumpkin, and zucchini. Prof. Yuling Bai, Dr. Lotte Caarls, and Prof. Dr. Rene van der Vlugt from Wageningen Plant Research participate in this new research initiative.
Tomato and cucurbits are among the most produced vegetable crops in the world. These crops are currently affected by two emerging global viruses, the begomovirus ToLCNDV (Tomato leaf curl New Delhi virus) and the tobamovirus ToBRFV (Tomato brown rugose fruit virus). The EU-funded Virtigation project aims to protect tomatoes and cucurbits from these viral diseases.
ToLCNDV is a DNA virus transmitted by whiteflies. ToLCNDV was first reported in 1995 infecting tomatoes in India. In Europe, ToLCNDV was detected for the first time in 2012, infecting zucchini in Spain. The infection causes severe stunting, interveinal yellowing, and leaf curling. Severe infection may lead to complete yield loss. ToBRFV is an RNA virus and was first detected in Israel in 2014. In the past years, outbreaks of ToBRFV have been reported in many European countries, including the Netherlands (2019).
Currently, few effective solutions are available to stop the crop destruction caused by these plant viruses. The Virtigation project aims to cut tomato and cucurbit crop losses stemming from viral diseases by up to 80%. Additionally, they aim to cut in half or even eliminate the use of pesticides to control emerging viral diseases. Virtigation will demonstrate several innovative bio-based solutions to safeguard tomato and cucurbit plants from viral diseases. This will include natural plant resistance, plant vaccines, biopesticides, and combinations in an integrated pest management approach.
The Virtigation project will also implement new methods for early detection, prevention, and control of these plant viruses. It will further develop innovative diagnostic tools and online monitoring platforms to identify possible outbreaks to ‘test, track and trace’ the spread of viruses.
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Wageningen University & Research