Tomatoes and cucurbits (i.e. cucumber, melon, pumpkin, zucchini and gourds) are among the most produced fruits and vegetables in the world, but are increasingly under threat by emerging viral diseases caused by begomoviruses (whitefly-transmitted) and tobamoviruses (mechanically transmitted). To date, there are only limited bio-based remedies on the market to tackle the devastation caused by these plant diseases.
Therefore, VIRTIGATION will develop a broad range of solutions, including vaccines for the plants, biopesticides against virus vectors and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies, to tackle these aggressive viruses.
Co-creation with stakeholders
Viral disease spread under climate change
Integrated virus & vector management
Pandemics are not only affecting human health. New aggressive viruses are spreading in greenhouses and fields across the world, threatening the multi-billion value chain of tomato and cucurbit.
The most threatening viruses which are becoming widespread across Northern Europe and the Mediterranean basin are begomoviruses called ToLCNDV (Tomato leaf curl New Delhi Virus) and TYLCV (Tomato yellow leaf curl virus), as well as a tobamovirus known as ToBRFV (Tomato brown rugose fruit virus). Due to their rapid transmission in fields and greenhouses, these plant diseases are very difficult to control and can lead to complete crop loss in affected areas.
To fight these viruses, producers often use pesticides, thereby exposing European growers and consumers to pesticide residues. Several European countries have been in the grip of ToLCNDV, TYLCV and ToBRFV in the past years, among them Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK. But not only Europe has been affected: tomato and cucurbit crops have also been ravaged in Israel, Morocco and India, making it a truly global challenge to address.
To date, only limited organic solutions exist on the market to combat these viruses, thereby putting the tomato and cucurbit value chains at risk.
VIRTIGATION aims to develop a set of bio-based remedies to safeguard tomato and cucurbit fields and greenhouses from the emerging viral diseases caused by begomoviruses and tobamoviruses. The project will propose and demonstrate several innovative solutions, including vaccines for the plants, biopesticides against virus vectors, as well as IPM strategies.
The project will also create a deeper understanding of plant-virus-vector interactions, taking into consideration the impacts caused by climate change. It will also develop advanced diagnostic tools for the early detection of virus variants, and identify conditions and factors enabling outbreaks. VIRTIGATION will further develop novel methods to contain viruses and their vectors, including biological treatments to limit transmission, cross-protection strategies as well as natural resistances.
At the end of its lifetime, the project’s proposed solutions will have been validated in industrially relevant field trials (Technology Readiness Level – TRL 5).
Viral genome sequencing and monitor virus outbreaks
Spread of emerging viral diseases under climate change
Integrated virus and vector management
Dissemination, exploitation and communication
Consortium coordination and project management
The project is coordinated by the Department of Biosystems at the KU Leuven (Belgium). The project coordinator is Prof. Hervé Vanderschuren from the Laboratory for Tropical Crop Improvement.