TomaTech has announced a major breakthrough in the fight against the Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus (ToBRFV).

Led by Assaf Eybishitz, the seed innovation company has filed for a provisional patent for identifying the DNA markers correlated to the virus’s resistant traits which it says will accelerate the breeding and commercialisation of high resistance non-GMO tomato varieties.

“Following years of intensive R&D efforts, TomatTech has succeeded in identifying DNA markers that elicit resistance to ToBRFV,” said Ofer Ben Zvi, CEO of TomaTech.

“This discovery will allow us to rapidly develop a complete portfolio of resistant tomato varieties for global introduction and will benefit the growers and the entire value chain, providing a consistent supply chain while lowering production costs.”

The ToBRFV virus has been inflicting havoc on in-door tomato plantations globally since 2014, affecting a broad spectrum of tomatoes, from sweet cherry lines to full-sized beefsteak tomatoes. Outbreaks have overwhelmed greenhouses across the North America, Europe, and the Middle East and is spreading to other regions.

The appearance of ToBRFV presents a substantial threat to growers and to the entire value chain around the world, causing severe damage to commercial varieties. It has already has led to significant reductions in yields, ranging from 30 per cent in losses to devastating entire crops.

Due to the virus’ ability to rapidly spread via mechanic transmission, especially under intense production practices, hygiene protocols have been imposed that require farmers to wear full protective gear and fully isolate virus-infected greenhouses.

Developing a portfolio of resistant varieties requires exceptional phenotyping and genotyping capabilities. TomaTech targeted virus resistance as one of its top R&D goals and has been working intensively since 2017 to develop new sources of resistance and the new cultivars.

“The ability to find strong resistance as well as identify DNA markers, protecting our IP through submission of provisional patent application, demonstrates TomaTech’s capabilities to position itself at the front line in the research and breeding of the tomatoes varieties for the global market,” said Favi Vidavski, president and head of R&D of TomaTech.

“We developed an advanced highly efficient screening system based on controlled inoculation and molecular technology where we continually tested tens of thousands of tomato plants under the most severe conditions.

“We reached a breakthrough a year ago with the discovery of specific DNA markers that proved instrumental in helping us isolate, identify and introduce ToBRFV-resistant genes, which we bred into our principal commercial tomato varieties.

Intermediate resistance versus high resistance

TomaTech has already introduced intermediate resistance (IR) capabilities across its entire breeding programme while concurrently broadening efforts to attain the next stage of high resistance (HR), projected to be completed in the near future.

“We have successfully identified and produced an impressive portfolio of commercial ToBRFV-resistant (IR) tomatoes that already are available for our customers,” said Vidavski.

TomaTech said the technology can be applied to a comprehensive range of tomato varieties across all segments and can be adapted to both heated and non-heated greenhouses.

The company said it would continue to invest in delivering real solutions to growers.

“Since its first appearance in 2014, the ToBRFV virus has presented a heavy burden for growers around the globe and for many dealt a heavy blow to their crops,” said Ben Zvi.

“Our unique breeding methodology not only boosts resilience but also positively enhances flavour and fruit quality characteristics, ensuring that the needs of retailers are met and that consumers will have continuous access to healthy, attractive, and flavourful tomato varieties.