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

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


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

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

First results of multi-actor approach, identification of more resistant varieties, analyzing post-project exploitation potential of first results
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

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).


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



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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.

VIRTIGATION partners on world map