VIROPLANT

Next generation sequencing (NGS) technology has proved to be pivotal for elucidating the complexity and the role of the microbiome associated with plant and animals. The role of the “virome” as a sub-component of the microbiome is beginning to be unveiled because of new ways to analyse the data and in recognition of its importance in shaping biological systems. The aim of VIROPLANT is to apply NGS technology and empirical biological experiments to develop new environmentally friendly virus-based control strategies to manage bacterial, fungal and insect vector-transmitted diseases (phytoplasmas and viruses) as well as insect pests. So far, plant protection through viruses has relied on limited successful model systems, such as baculoviruses for lepidopterans, and one mycovirus for the control of chestnut blight; moreover, viruses infecting bacteria (phages) are also state of the art tools with potential to cope with antibiotic resistant bacterial strains in human and veterinary medicine. VIROPLANT will create a database of new viruses (and virus derived biotechnological products) to increase the arsenal for the control of plant diseases caused by the most important biotic stresses. Protocols of risk assessment will be implemented for virome-based model control strategies. A business plan for representative categories of virome-based control strategies will be included. Small and medium enterprises and stakeholders will be involved in bringing the most promising products to the market. The consortium will cover experts in insect virome, phage therapy and mycoviruses from different agro-ecological systems throughout Europe. For further information, please visit www.viroplant.eu

VIROPLANT has the following specific objectives:

I) Finding biocontrol tools for bacterial diseases of plants to replace copper, the only available chemical approach routinely allowed in Europe against bacteria. In particular, VIROPLANT will result in five phage cocktails against bacterial kiwifruit vine disease, halo blight of bean, bacterial wilt of tomato, bacterial canker of stone fruit trees and crazy roots of tomato and cucumber.

II) Finding alternatives to the use of chemical fungicides for the control of plant diseases caused by fungi: in specific VIROPLANT will identify, through next generation sequencing (NGS), potential biocontrol agents from the virosphere of obligatory biotrophs of grapevine (powdery and downy mildew) lettuce (downy mildew) and tomato (powdery mildew), grapevine gray mold and Phytophthora spp. of strawberry.

III) Reducing the use of insecticides to control pests causing direct and indirect damage to plants. In particular, VIROPLANT will identify, through NGS analysis, potential new BCAs from the virosphere of vectors of Tospoviruses to onion, tomato, and pepper, and of the leafhopper vector of Flavescence dorée phytoplasma to grapevine. Furthermore, VIROPLANT will explore the potential of i) new biocontrol agents from the virosphere of the lepidopteran pest Helicoverpa armigera, using selected combination of naturally occurring insect viruses, including densoviruses; ii) a control strategy for Spodoptera exigua infestations of pepper based on inoculation of Iflaviruses, taking into account their effects on the overall consortium of microorganisms limiting the pest population.

IV) Exploring the potential of recent technology (RNA interference=RNAi) to limit the use of fungicides and pesticides in agriculture. VIROPLANT will derive virus infectious clones and VIGS vectors from selected mycoviruses and insect viruses for RNAi approaches against phytopathogenic fungi and plant pests.

V) Evaluating the possible “resilience” to biotic stresses caused by the presence of covert/cryptic viruses in model crops (tomato), and in one specific experimental system (a replicating bona fidae plant mitovirus in quinoa lines)

VI) Assessing the environmental risk of phage therapy against bacterial plant pathogens analyzing unintended effects on beneficial organisms, and addressing the regulatory issues required for EU registration of natural viruses for biocontrol of bacteria, fungi and insects to develop environmentally safe and friendly products.

VII) Identifying and measuring social acceptance of natural and biotechnologically manipulated virome-based tools and strategies and identifying generational and gender-specific drivers at the base of the reluctance to adopt this new technologies/tools.

VIII) Identifying new business and market opportunities on a regional and European scale for virus-based BCAs.

The other partners of the project are:

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven  (BE)
University of Reading (UK)
INRA – Montpellier (FR)
University of Valencia (ES)
Institute of Biodiversity, Thunen (DE)
VLO-ILVO (BE)
Utrecht University  (NL)
Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (ES)
University of Milano Bicocca (IT)
METEC (IT)
APS Biocontrol Ltd. (UK)
GAB Consulting (DE)
Elephant Vert  (FR)
Agrion (IT)
Boerenbond (BE)
Luke Natural Resource Institute of Finland (FI)
Ku Leuven (BE)

Research staff

Research activity

  • Production defense and biosafety