EU-funded VIRTIGATION combats viral crop destruction in tomato and cucurbit
15 September 2021 – 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.
Pandemics are not only affecting mankind. New aggressive plant viruses are spreading in greenhouses and fields across the world, threatening the multi-billion industry of tomato and cucurbit production. From Europe, Morocco, Israel to India, huge yield losses are occurring, ranging from 15% to up to 100%, coinciding with entire crop destruction. The emergence of new, devastating plant viruses is fueled by climate change, rising global trade and more interconnected agricultural sectors.
Bio-based solutions to safeguard tomato and cucurbit
To date, few viable remedies are available to tackle the crop destruction caused by these plant viruses. Unless effective and environmentally friendly solutions are found to protect tomatoes and cucurbits against damage from viral diseases, the supply of staple foods for billions of people will be in jeopardy.
In response to this global threat, the EU-funded VIRTIGATION project aims to cut tomato and cucurbit crop losses stemming from viral diseases by up to 80%. Moreover, VIRTIGATION seeks 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 thereof 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. With this toolbox, VIRTIGAITON aims to assist the entire value chain — from plant health services, policymakers, to industry and farmers — in protecting tomatoes and cucurbits from viral diseases.
International collaboration led by the world-renowned KU Leuven University
As global threats require global solutions, VIRTIGATION brings together some of the most renowned universities, industries, research & technology organizations, agricultural extension services and SMEs across the world. VIRTIGATION involves 25 partners from 12 countries: Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria, Israel, Morocco and India.
The project is coordinated by the Department of Biosystems at the KU Leuven University in Belgium. Project Coordinator Hervé Vanderschuren, Professor of Tropical Crop Improvement at KU Leuven, outlines the ambition of VIRTIGATION:
The VIRTIGATION project is running for a duration of 4 years (June 2021 – May 2025) and is funded with EUR 7 million by the EU Horizon 2020 programme.
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Shutterstock, KU Leuven
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