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Italy: TYLCV variant risks damaging entire economy

The research and university worlds are increasingly concerned about the Sicilian fresh produce sector. The island produces almost half of Italian table tomatoes with significant effects on its society and economy. Sicily is therefore strategic for the country's agriculture, but currently has to deal with at least two major problems.

We talked about it with Salvatore Walter Davino, one of the leading experts in tomato viruses and professor at the Department of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Sciences at the University of Palermo. 

New Delhi virus
"The first problem we have to deal with is the New Delhi virus, which first appeared in Sicily in 2015. Spain was the first European country affected and it all started with cucurbits. The virus then moved on to tomatoes after around 4 years."

"We are currently monitoring tomato crops. The data collected in the Iberian peninsula could provide information as to how to tackle the problem, especially since it's extremely likely that things will evolve in the same way."

Trouble never comes alone!
"Another great problem is the IL23 variant of TYLCV. It originated autonomously as a genetic recombination of the TYLCV and TYLCSV viruses."

"From the studies conducted so far, it would seem that this new strain has the capability of overcoming the tolerance of selected plants to the previous strain. It's an extremely serious problem, as there are currently no tomato varieties that can tolerate this disease. The new variant was first observed in Vittoria (RG) and has since moved towards the Caltanissetta province. Thanks to the mild winters, vector Bemisia tabaci, could in fact proliferate and contaminate nearby areas."

Future at risk for many producers
The situation described by professor Davino is alarming for a territory where tomatoes are the main crop. Sicilian greenhouse cultivation needs prompt intervention if it is not to compromise thousands of businesses. Institutions have been informed about the danger from the start and Regione Sicilia financed a two-year project to study the problem.

This sector gives work to over 100,000 people in the area between Licata (AG) and Portopalo di Capopassero (SR).

"Over the next few months, we will be able to make a real assessment that will take into consideration not only the phytopathological aspects affecting the territory, but also the economic loss that would derive from a pandemic."
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