Project summary

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

Innovative
diagnostic tools

Plant-virus-vector interactions

Viral disease spread under climate change

Integrated virus & vector management

Train the
value chain

The challenge

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.

Project timeline

2021
Project
launch


Identifying the most relevant actors for the VIRTIGATION network in the project’s multi-actor approach
2022
Start enhancing plant defences

Collect samples, identify resistant tomato varieties and plant extracts with insecticidal effect
2023
Assessing mid-term progress

First results of multi-actor approach, identification of more resistant varieties, analyzing post-project exploitation potential of first results
2024
Understanding & mitigating viral disease spread

Outlook on future spread of viral diseases in Europe, policy document on role of seed transmission on viral disease spread to Europe, new innovations in genome sequencing for plant viruses and IPM practices
2025
Project
end


Maximizing project impact beyond its lifetime through detailed post-project exploitation planning for all key results and agreements for possible commercialization and/or further research activities

The solution

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).

Multi-Actor
Approach

Viral genome sequencing and monitor virus outbreaks

Plant-virus-vector
interactions

Spread of emerging viral diseases under climate change

Integrated virus and vector management

Dissemination, exploitation and communication

Consortium coordination and project management

Ethics
requirements

News

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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.

Scientia Terrae

Scientia Terrae, a not-for-profit-organization, was founded in October 2001 as a research, service and education institute for the benefit of the horticulture industry and food sector. By positioning itself on the interface between the academic world and the agriculture industry, Scientia Terrae translates fundamental science into practical solutions and real-world applications. It’s R&D activities focus on soil quality and nutrient management, phytopathology and biorational control, as well as molecular diagnostics.

Website: www.scientia.be

Scientia Terrae team in VIRTIGATION

International Partner UASB

The University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore (UASB) is located in Bengaluru, Karnataka, India. The UASB was established in 1964 by a Legislative Act of the Government of Karnataka state. In less than half a century, UASB has released over 200 varieties in diverse crops for the benefit of farmers. Production technologies developed for dryland agriculture have helped to stabilize farm productivity even in rain sparse years. Over the years, UASB has grown into an institution of national and international prestige. The University successfully has carried out its mission in agriculture education, research and extension to transform agriculture in the state of Karnataka.  In recognition of its excellence in teaching, research and extension, UASB was conferred the best State Agricultural University (SAU) in India twice during 2001 and 2012 by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), India.

Website: www.uasbangalore.edu.in

UASB team contributing to VIRTIGATION

Corteva

Corteva Agriscience™ is the only major agriscience company completely dedicated to agriculture. It has gained expertise over two centuries of scientific achievement. Its goal is to enrich the lives of those who produce and those who consume, ensuring progress for generations to come. Corteva is continuously acquiring valuable knowledge in crop protection products including bio-pesticides, biocontrol agents and bio-stimulants; related to practical field limitations and spraying systems to provide farmers the best tools to manage their crops in a sustainable manner that respects the environment.

Website: www.corteva.it

Corteva team in VIRTIGATION

RTDS

RTDS Association is the Austrian non-profit arm of the RTDS Group supporting implementation and management of European research and innovation projects to optimize the use of results for maximum impact. RTDS has a proven track record in enabling the innovators to move research and technology from the lab to the market. RTDS addresses heterogenous networks of stakeholders to manage, communicate and exploit the individual and jointly developed know-how, while analyzing broader socio-economic aspects required for uptake of the project results. RTDS works closely with academia, SMEs, European associations and interest groups, corporate entities, and independent research institutions interested in a sustainable transition. Not pursuing ownership of research results, RTDS objectively manages all dissemination, exploitation, communication and innovation processes in collaborative projects to develop business models and exploitation plans in the interest of all involved partners.

Website: https://www.rtds-group.com/

RTDS team in VIRTIGATION

Maraissa

More information coming soon

LNW

LNW - plant protection service - belongs to the Chamber of Agriculture North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. This Chamber is on the one hand an agricultural self-government representing about 34.000 agricultural, horticultural, and forestry farms and their employees in North Rhine-Westphalia. On the other hand, part of it is a state representative and state authority of the Ministry for Environment, Agriculture, Conservation and Consumer Protection of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia. Tasks of the LNW are for example diagnosis of pest and diseases, research and testing of plant protection products, integrated and alternative pest management methods (IPM) and application equipment in the field and in the greenhouse. LNW also provides support to the extension service of the Chamber’s self-government part. Another task of LNW is education and training, including expert knowledge for people using plant protection products. It supports farmers with information tools such as warnings, publications, and digital prognosis systems.

Website: www.landwirtschaftskammer.de

LNW team in VIRTIGATION

Heike Scholz-Döbelin
Horticultural engineer

Monika Heupel
Biologist

Matthias Schlüpen
Horticultural engineer

AGAPA

Agencia de Gestión Agraria y Pesquera de Andalucía, (Agency for the management of agriculture and fisheries of Andalusia) is a public agency that falls under the regional Government of Andalusia, Spain. It bases its activity on the development of policies and the technical support related to the agricultural, livestock, fishing and rural development sectors which are of enormous importance both in EU policies and with regards to cooperation with third parties. The most important lines of activity developed by the Agency are: technical support to the management and control of agricultural public aids; agricultural, livestock and fisheries inspection, surveillance and control; agrifood laboratories; farms management; services to the fisheries and aquaculture sectors; irrigation systems and rural and fishing infrastructures; training on the agricultural and fishing fields; analysis, prospective studies and technology transfer; information systems and technologies; management support; agrifood quality and promotion; territorial development, international projects and cooperation.

The Agency has a wide presence in the Andalusian territory, with 92 offices distributed throughout the region and about 3,000 specialized workers. In addition to the different headquarters located in each one of the 8 provinces of Andalusia, AGAPA manages the European Institute of Mediterranean food, the agri-food complex Hacienda de Quinto, and more than 5,000 ha. dedicated to farming in public estates. It also has 60 District Agricultural Offices, that provide first-hand and extensive knowledge of the territories. They also play an important role in the promotion of innovation, advisory and transfer to the different subsectors. The Agency further has 20 livestock and agricultural laboratories and one oenological station, and premises for quality control of fishery resources.

Website: http://www.agapa.junta-andalucia.es/portal/

AGAPA team in VIRTIGATION

HVH2

Huerta Valle Hibri2 is an independent seed production company based in Spain with more than 40 years expertise in horticultural seed production and vegetable growing. Its main focus is on solanaceous and cucurbit crops, being key factors of the supply change for R&D breeding programs, stock seeds and commercial hybrids for national and international seed companies.

Website: www.huerta-valle-hibri2.com

HVH2 team in VIRTIGATION

SYN

Syngenta Crop Protection and Syngenta Seeds are part of Syngenta Group, one of the world’s leading agriculture companies. Syngenta’s ambition is to help safely feed the world while taking care of the planet. It aims to improve the sustainability, quality and safety of agriculture with world class science and innovative crop solutions. Syngenta’s technologies enable millions of farmers around the world to make better use of limited agricultural resources. Syngenta is involved through Syngenta France SAS in VIRTIGATION.

Website: https://www.syngenta.com/en


Syngenta France SAS team in VIRTIGATION

Gregori Bonnet
Principal Scientist

Celine Labourey
Trait Development Lead Solanaceae

Elena Garcia
Trait Development Lead Cucurbitaceae

JKI

The Julius Kühn Institute (JKI) is the Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants in Germany and an autonomous superior federal authority directly subordinated to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Its work revolves around plant genetics and breeding research, the cultivation, nutrition, protection and health of cultivated plants. Its research in these areas conducted in 17 specialized sub institutes enables it to provide comprehensive scientific advice to the Federal Government. The effects of climate change, globalisation and urbanisation of society, as well as declining natural resources and biological diversity pose major challenges to mankind and agriculture. JKI’s aim is to ensure the production of healthy and highly productive robust cultivated plants whether they are grown in fields, orchards, vineyards, forests or urban environments. It also promotes the sustainable production and use of our crops as basic nutrients, renewable resources and essential elements in cultural landscapes while aiming to maintain plant diversity.

Brunswick is one of JKI’s 10 locations in Germany. Here, at the Institute for Epidemiology and Pathogen Diagnostics, JKI’s plant virologists conduct applied research in vegetable crops in fields and greenhouses. JKI’s experts are searching for new virus species and elaborate virus-vector-hostplant interactions. Because environmental conditions can impact both vector and virus dissemination, the researchers aim to develop preventive measures against emerging whitefly-transmitted geminivirus and mechanistically transmitted tobamovirus diseases in countries at risk for plant virus-pandemics.


Website: https://www.julius-kuehn.de/en/ep/


JKI team in VIRTIGATION

Institute for Epidemiology and Pathogen Diagnostics

APREL

APREL is an association created in 1984 by professional growers settled in Provence-Alpes Côte-d’Azur region (South-East France), which aims to improve technical and economical performances of the vegetable production in Provence. In the APREL’s experimental program, all major crops of the region are studied in different growing practices, greenhouse/open-field, soil/soil-less, conventional/organic: tomato, melon, eggplant, pepper, cucumber, zucchini, strawberries, lettuce, etc. The experiment program is discussed each year between engineers, technical consultants and growers. The main topics are : studies of varieties, post-harvest quality, integrated pest management, biological control, fertilization and water management, cultural techniques, new technologies.

The association has further established relations between research and growing activities, and APREL is often asked to be a partner in research projects with INRAE and other stations. One of the main purposes of APREL is to provide information and trial results to growers in order to support their technical progress. Every trial is carried out on farm, which allows getting results directly from real growing conditions and facilitates information transfer to growers. Visits of trials are organized on site to expose results to different professional partners.

Website: www.aprel.fr


APREL team in VIRTIGATION

PCH

Proefcentrum Hoogstraten is a research centre located in the north of the province of Antwerp, Belgium, in the middle of an important horticultural area. PCH is specialized in horticultural applied scientific and demonstrative research in the cultivation of the glasshouse crops tomato, bell pepper and strawberry, and strawberry in all other cultivation systems (open field, table tops,…). Practical and demonstrative research in these crops makes the translation of fundamental research into horticultural practice, and thus provides information and answers to questions risen from professional growers and other companies in the horticultural sector. The close contact with the growers, who are also abundantly represented in all governing bodies of the Research Centre, is one of the strengths for its practical research.

The main research topics are variety trials, growing techniques, new cultivation systems and technologies, disease and pest management, IPM strategies, fertilization, sustainable water (re)use, energy, fruit quality, plant quality,…  In collaboration with other national and international research institutions, research projects are initiated to solve more fundamental problems in the above crops. The transfer of research results to farmers and knowledge exchange with other scientists is an important role of the Research Centre. Based on the obtained results, advices are shared directly with growers and other stakeholders.

Website: www.proefcentrum.be


PCH team in VIRTIGATION

VC

The Volcani Center is a governmental organization and an arm of The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Its groundbreaking research is a leading force in agriculture in Israel and abroad. This will enable it to provide crucial aid for numerous countries to sustain their food stability and supply food for a growing population worldwide. The Volcani Center includes six institutes & two research centers, which cover all research disciplines in agriculture. Its institutes: Plant Sciences; Animal Sciences; Plant Protection; Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences; Postharvest and Food sciences; and Agriculture Engineering. Gilat Research Center located in the south of Israel is addressing issues related to dessert agriculture, and Newe Ya'ar Research Center located in the north of Israel is addressing issues related to sustainable agriculture. The Volcani Center also hosts Israel's Plant Gene Bank. Its mandate is to collect, preserve and evaluate plant species indigenous to Israel, including landraces and primitive cultivars.

Website:

https://www.agri.gov.il/en/home/default.aspx

VC team in VIRTIGATION

EMWEB

Emweb is a bioinformatics company offering Genome Detective, a web-based platform for analysis, storage and collaboration for microbial next generation sequencing data. The analysis includes high quality meta-genomic de novo reassembly, species identification, and subtyping. A wide range of sequencing technologies and lab protocols are supported. Sequencing data and analysis results are safely stored in a database with epidemiological annotations for future analysis and sharing with project partners.

Website: https://www.emweb.be/ , https://www.genomedetective.com/

EMWEB team in VIRTIGATION

INRAE

INRAE was created on January 1, 2020 by the merger of INRA, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, and IRSTEA, the French National Research Institute of Science and Technology for the Environment and Agriculture. It involves 11,500 staff members including 2,000 researchers, 3,100 engineers and assistant engineers, and 3,300 technicians. Its missions are to carry out, organise, and coordinate, on its own initiative or in response to a governmental request, all types of scientific and technological research in the domains of agriculture, food, forestry, the environment, water resources, biodiversity, the bioeconomy, the circular economy, the sustainable management of regions, and risk management in the specialised fields of research mentioned above.

The INRAE Plant Pathology Unit in Avignon, France aims to contribute to the development of rational and efficient disease control methods compatible with a sustainable and high quality production. The Virology Team conducts activities concerning mostly viral diseases of vegetable (cucurbits, pepper and tomato) and ornamental crops. Its research program is centred on virus emergence at different scales from plant to landscape, and focuses on three main axes: aetiology and diagnosis, from biological indexing to next-generation sequencing; dynamics and evolution of virus populations, in relation to vector incidence and landscape properties; and resistance durability, including quantitative resistances and tolerance. It strives to be as generic as possible in the design of new concepts, methodologies and tools.

Website: https://www6.paca.inrae.fr/pathologie_vegetale_eng/Our-research/VIROLOGY

INRAE team in VIRTIGATION

WR

Stichting Wageningen Research is part of Wageningen University & Research, in which it collaborates with Wageningen University. Stichting Wageningen Research is a private not for profit research institute. Wageningen University & Research combines the knowledge and experience of about 6,500 staff and 12,000 students from over 100 countries and contributes actively to solving scientific, societal and commercial problems in the field of life sciences and natural resources. These domains are studied from various disciplines and with an integrated approach to strike a balance between economics, culture and nature, using an integrated approach. The research institutes of Wageningen University & Research cover basic, strategic, application driven and applied research in close collaboration with governments, companies, stakeholder organizations, citizens, and other knowledge institutions. 

Websites:

https://www.wur.nl/en/Research-Results/Research-Institutes/plant-research/Plant-Breeding.htm

https://www.wur.nl/en/Research-Results/Research-Institutes/plant-research/Biointeractions-Plant-Health.htm


WR team in VIRTIGATION

Department of Plant Breeding

Micha Devi
Postdoctoral Researcher

Department of Biointeractions & Plant Health

WU

Wageningen University & Research is a collaboration between Wageningen University (WU) and the specialized research institutes of Wageningen Research (WR). This combination of knowledge and experience enables WUR with its 6,500 staff and more than 12,000 students to contribute actively to solving scientific, social and commercial problems in the field of life sciences and natural resources. WUR uses an integrated approach in close collaboration with governments, companies, stakeholder organizations, citizens, and other knowledge institutions. WU is the only university in the Netherlands to focus specifically on the theme ‘healthy food and living environment’. For the 16th consecutive year, WU is the best university for full-time education in the Netherlands. Internationally, WU is ranked the number 1 university for agriculture and forestry worldwide.

Website:

https://www.wur.nl/en/Research-Results/Research-Institutes/plant-research/Plant-Breeding.htm

WU team in VIRTIGATION

Department of Plant Breeding

Laboratory of Virology

UNICT

The University of Catania has been founded in 1434, being one of the oldest universities in Italy. Its didactic and research activities are presently run by 18 departments, the School of Medicine and by two Special Education Structures set up in decentralized sites: Ragusa (Foreign Language and Literature) and Syracuse (Architecture). A “University School of Excellence”, that each year selects talented young Italians and foreign students, provides special educational facilities.

Among the 18 scientific departments being part of the University of Catania, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Environment (Di3A) houses over 100 university teachers (professors, associate professors and assistant professors), various thematic research and teaching laboratories, and a huge library providing access to thousands of specialized books, periodicals, and on-line scientific journals. Research carried out at Di3A mainly deals with aspects of sustainability in Mediterranean crops, food production and natural resources management, allowing to develop strategic international co-operation with neighbouring countries, especially in North-Africa and Middle-East. The Applied Entomology Section plays an internationally recognized role in research focused on integrated crop protection, with special reference to sap sucking insects in Mediterranean agro-ecosystems (especially Hemiptera Sternorrhyncha, including the superfamily Aleyrodoidea), their biology and role as vectors of plant pathogens, application strategies of natural enemies for integrated pest management (IPM), pesticide selectivity and side effects, semiochemicals and microbial compounds for pest control. All mentioned activities are performed within research projects funded by private companies, Italian Ministries and the EU. The achieved expertise is used by UNICT-Di3A also to offer consulting services and scientific support to farmers, food industries and public bodies operating in the area.

Website: https://www.di3a.unict.it/en

UNICT team in VIRTIGATION

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Environment

CSIC

The CSIC (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Spanish National Research Council) is Spain’s largest public research institution, and ranks third among Europe’s largest research organizations. The CSIC is attached to the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and plays a key role in scientific and technological policy in Spain. The main missions of CSIC are to foster multidisciplinary scientific and technological research, knowledge transfer to industry and society, education and training of scientific and technical staff, and creation of Technology Based Companies.

Within the CSIC, the Instituto de Hortofruticultura Subtropical y Mediterránea “La Mayora” (Institute for Mediterranean and Subtropical Horticulture "La Mayora", IHSM) is a joint venture with the University of Málaga (UMA) that was created in 2010 to bring together the research groups from the preexisting “La Mayora” Experimental Station (EELM-CSIC) and research groups from several departments of the UMA, to promote and coordinate more efficiently the scientific research carried out by both entities in intensive horticulture and subtropical fruit production. The IHSM is situated in one of the most dynamic agricultural areas of Spain (coastal areas of Málaga, Granada and Almería provinces) where the major concentration of intensive horticulture production and subtropical fruits trees of Europe is located. Collaboration with the producing sector (mainly seed companies and grower cooperatives) is a priority for the IHSM.

Website: https://www.ihsm.uma-csic.es/

CSIC team in VIRTIGATION

CRAG

The Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG) is an independent research institution located in the area of Barcelona (Spain) and devoted to leading-edge research in plant and farm animal biology, genetics and genomics, with an emphasis in the molecular basis of genetic characters of interest in plants and farm animals and in the applications of molecular approaches for breeding of species important for agriculture and food production. It currently hosts more than 200 members from across the world in its modern facilities inaugurated in 2011.  CRAG holds the “Human Resources Excellence in Research'' accreditation by the European Commission, and the “Centre of Excellence Severo Ochoa” award by the Spanish Government.

Website: www.cragenomica.es

CRAG team in VIRTIGATION

NRI-UoG

Using an interdisciplinary approach, the Natural Resources Institute - University of Greenwich undertakes research, teaching, training and consultancy to address interrelated global challenges affecting everyone from local farmers and consumers, to the UK food industry, to smallholder communities in the developing world. Together with our international partners, we tackle issues including poverty, food and nutrition security, sustainable agriculture, climate change, gender and social equality, responsible production and consumption, sustainable management of natural resources and the environment.

Website: www.nri.org

NRI-UoG team in VIRTIGATION

Agriculture, Health and Environment Department

Livelihoods and Institutions Department

LIST

The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) is a mission-driven Research and Technology Organization (RTO) that develops competitive and market-oriented product/service prototypes for public and private stakeholders. With its 600 employees, 75% of whom are researchers or innovation experts from all around the world, LIST is active in the fields of informatics, materials and environment and works across the entire innovation chain: fundamental/applied research, incubation and transfer of technologies.

Website: https://www.list.lu/

LIST team in VIRTIGATION

TECNOVA

TECNOVA Technology Centre promotes applied innovation and technology development so as to improve competitiveness and profitability of companies in the agribusiness sector. It works with more than 300 companies that are committed to processes of change and innovation within their organizations and we do it with responsibility, flexibility and confidentiality. TECNOVA, as European cluster brings together the main companies of the sector, works as a network to help them position themselves in the main international markets, by transferring knowledge and technology, promoting R&D and looking for funding lines. It is based in Almería, Spain, known for hosting the highest concentration of greenhouse crops in Europe with over 30.000 ha. Effective control and management of plant viruses and pests in such an environment is essential for ensuring food security and sustainability.

Website: http://www.fundaciontecnova.com/

TECNOVA team in VIRTIGATION

DCM CORP

DCM is a family-owned company that has over 45 years of experience in developing, producing and marketing soil fertility and plant health products (organic & organo-mineral fertilisers, organic substrates & potting soils, seeds, cover materials, biostimulants and biorational plant protection products) for both hobbyist and professional use. Consequently, DCM offers 300 product formulations, mainly manufactured in their own production facilities. DCM has a large research division with in-depth knowledge of plant virology, and has developed the first EU-wide registered plant virus vaccine, PMV®-01, against Pepino mosaic virus in tomato.

Website: https://dcm-info.com/

DCM CORP team in VIRTIGATION

Ku Leuven

KU Leuven is currently the largest university in Belgium in terms of research funding and expenditure, and is a charter member of The League of European Research Universities (LERU). KU Leuven conducts fundamental and applied research in all academic disciplines with a clear international orientation. In the Times Higher Education ranking 2021, KU Leuven is ranked as the 14th European university, while in the Reuters Top 100 of the World’s most innovative institutions, KU Leuven is listed as the first European university for the fifth year in a row.

Website: https://www.biw.kuleuven.be/biosyst/plantenbiotechniek/tropical

KU Leuven team in VIRTIGATION

The Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement, Department of Biosystems

Victor Golyaev
Postdoctoral Researcher

European and International Projects LRD


Hilde Nuyts
Financial Reporting