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Devastating virus attacking tomatoes, peppers & chili plants in US, China & Europe

The virus is also present in seven other countries.

Ashley Tan | February 5, 03:10 pm

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Another deadly virus has been making its rounds overseas.

But this time it’s threatening crops, not humans.

Virus causes massive plant loss

The Tomato rugose brown fruit virus (ToRBFV) attacks tomatoes, peppers and chili plants in particular, which are members of the same group of plants Solanaceae.

The virus is harmless to humans and animals, but can cause massive plant loss and damage to whole areas of production, such as greenhouses, gardens and organic fields, Reuters reported.

Infected fruits end up smaller, discoloured and lower in quality. Here’s a picture of the virus’ effects.

Photo from Luria et al. and Alkowni et al. via USDA

Although the fruits are still safe to eat, they become less marketable, resulting in large economic losses—production of tomatoes and peppers in the U.S. is worth over US$2.3 billion (S$3.1 billion) every year.

Virulent and transmitted through simple contact

Transmitted through infected plant parts like seeds and cuttings, or even through direct contact, the virus has been described as “highly virulent” and “very aggressive”.

France’s food safety agency Anses stated that the virus can also survive for a long time without losing its infective properties.

The virus first emerged in Israel in 2014, but has since broken out in numerous other countries like the U.S., China, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Jordan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, and Palestine, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

There is currently no treatment or variety of plant resistant to the virus.

A high degree of sanitation is key to preventing the spread of the virus, according to Michigan State University’s researcher Ronald Goldy. This is particularly crucial during seed and transplant production as there is the potential to infect thousands of other plants during these processes.

The USDA has since tightened restrictions on the imports of tomatoes, peppers and chillis.

Top photo from Ben Schumin / Flickr

About Ashley Tan

Ashley can't go a week without McDonalds.

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