Research project Assessing the risk of whitefly transmitted viruses for Belgian crops

In progress VIRTAB
© Stephen Ausmus - US Department of Agriculture

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General introduction

Whiteflies such as Trialeurodes vaporariorum and Bemisia tabaci are devastating, cosmopolitan pests on greenhouse crops such as tomato or cucumber and cause annual yield losses of more than 1 billion euro worldwide. In addition to feeding on the phloem of plant leaves, they are well-known to transmit detrimental plant viruses, with more than a hundred documented plant viruses for B. tabaci For B. tabaci, a distinction is made between European and non-European populations (i.e. B. tabaci found in imported produce and ornamental plants from non-European countries) with the latter being considered as quarantine pests (according to Commission Implementation Regulation (EU) 2019/2072). However, the current status of Belgian B. tabaci populations is not well-known, with, according to the EPPO, only a restricted distribution of B. tabaci in Belgium while being widespread in the Netherlands. In addition, whether these Belgian B. tabaci populations or those (non-European) B. tabaci specimens intercepted at customs carry whitefly-transmitted viruses that could pose a risk to greenhouse crops in Belgium, is currently unknown.

Research approach

For more accurate identification of B. tabaci we use both classical (specific and generic) molecular techniques as high-throughput sequencing (Illumina) to identify and characterize viruses that are present in non-European B. tabaci populations as well as those present in Belgian (European) whitefly populations and their host-plants.


The outcome of this project might serve as evidence for the current EU regulation defining non European
populations of B. tabaci as Q pests In addition, it will provide knowledge on the prevalence of Belgian B.
tabaci populations either in greenhouse crops or field crops, the viruses they might transmit and possible measures to be taken against these Belgian B. tabaci populations.