Wageningen University: WUR participates in EU project to fight viral diseases in tomato and cucurbit crops

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 form 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 global emerging 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 a 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).

Bio-based solutions
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 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.

Participation WUR
With a total budget of € 7 million for four years, VIRTIGATION brings together 25 partners from 12 countries. Both Wageningen University (WU) and Wageningen Research (WR) are partners of the VIRTIGATION consortium. Prof. Yuling Bai (WU) aims to study the interaction of tomato-begomovirus-whitefly and to identify tomato genes for resistance to ToBRFV. Dr. Lotte Caarls (WR) will focus on characterization of a tomato gene involved in natural whitefly resistance. Prof. Dr. Rene van der Vlugt (WR) will focus on virus epidemiology and ecology, as well as virus and vector control through breeding and Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

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