A newly emerging virus, Tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV), has been identified in mainland Europe which poses a potential and significant risk to UK tomato and pepper crops.
The virus is a tobamovirus, and is a related to Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) and Tomato mosaic virus (ToMV). However, the new virus can overcome the Tm-22 resistance gene which means that TMV and ToMV resistant varieties will be susceptible to this new virus (ToBRFV).
ToBRFV was first described from tomato crops in Israel in 2014, where the virus spread in tomato greenhouses almost nationwide within the period of one year after the first outbreak reports. The virus has since been reported from Jordan, Mexico, and Italy, including the island of Sicily, and is present but under eradication in Germany following outbreaks in several glasshouses.
Symptoms of ToBRFV
The virus is named after the characteristic brown wrinkled (rugose) patches which can develop on fruit of infected plants. However, symptoms of infection can vary with variety and in tomato can include mild to severe mosaic, discolouring on the leaves, with some leaves becoming narrower. Tomato fruits can be discoloured, misshapen, turning yellow or brown with crinkling of the skin. The virus can readily spread to all plants in a crop. Due to the symptoms, the fruits of infected plants lose market value or are unmarketable.
- Mosaics (chlorotic or pale patches) develop on younger leaves in the head and side shoots.
- Leaves may be crumpled (puckered) and deformed, in some cases leaves may be narrowed
- Brown (necrotic) streaks may develop on stems.
- Fruit can develop chlorotic marbling which can appear similar to infection with Pepino mosaic virus.
- Fruit may develop brown wrinkled (rugose) patches
Mosaic formation on the younger leaves which may also be crumpled or puckered
Reproduced by kind permission of Dr Aviv Dombrovsy, The Volcani Center, Israel, and EPPO
Reproduced by kind permission of Dr Wulf Menzel as published in Menzel et al. (2019). New Disease Reports 39, 1.
Chlorotic (yellow) spotting and marbling of fruit can appear to be similar to infection with PepMV
Picture reproduced by kind permission of Dr Wulf Menzel as published in Menzel et al. (2019). New Disease Reports 39, 1.
Tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV)-infected tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) plants. (a, d) Brown rugose symptoms developed on fruits. (b, c) chlorotic spots on fruits. (a, e–g) Mosaic pattern developed on leaves and narrowing accompanied by mottling leaves. (g) Necrotic symptoms on pedicle (stem), calyces, and petioles.
(Source Dombrovsky and Smith, 2017, Seed Transmission of Tobamoviruses: Aspects of Global Disease Distribution, from Seed Biology Ed. Jose C. Jimenez-Lopez. Photographs reproduced by kind permission of the authors )
Hosts and spread
Tomato is a major host of ToBRFV, but inoculation trials have demonstrated that Sweet pepper (Capsicum annuum) as well as the experimental host plants Nicotiana species, Solanum nigrum, Chenopodium quinoa, Petunia hybrida and Chenopodium murale can act as minor hosts showing slight symptoms.
Tobamoviruses are stable outside of their host, and the main routes for transmission of ToBRFV are through propagation material (cuttings and grafts) or mechanical means and contact. For example, the movement of virus on contaminated tools, hands and clothing, or plant-to-plant contact. As with other tobamoviruses, it is also thought that ToBRFV is seed transmitted. Even a low efficiency of seed transmission could cause a number of infected plants to be present in a glasshouse.
Once an outbreak of ToBRFV occurs, normal glasshouse working practices can quickly spread the virus via movements of contaminated tools and equipment (such as during plant cutting, on workers hands and clothing, via picking carts and crates, stringing to trellis ropes, and on glasshouse structures). It has also recently been reported that the virus can be transmitted by bumblebees during pollination.
Following an outbreak the virus could remain viable in leaf debris, seeds or contaminated soil for several months. Once the virus is introduced in an area, potential control measures are very limited and rely mainly on elimination of infected plants and strict hygiene measures. However, many of these hygiene measures can also be used prophylactically to minimise the risk of entry, spread and impact of this virus.
Hygiene best practice
Hygiene best practice procedures should be followed as a precautionary measure to minimise the impact of an outbreak should one occur.
As the virus is primarily transmitted via contact, a suite of prophylactic measures termed ‘hygiene best practice’ should be followed to minimise the chances of the virus entering and spreading within a crop. These precautions should be applied routinely. This list is not exhaustive but gives measures recommended to minimise the risk of spread of contact transmitted pathogens including other viruses and viroids.
Restrict access to the place of production
Access should be limited to people working in the specific crop/glasshouse. This will minimise the risk of inadvertent introduction and spread around the glasshouse production facility via human activity. Additionally, as a standard, there should be no direct travel between packhouses and glasshouses on the same day. Clothing must be changed/washed between the two locations if entering on different days.
Prohibit sorting/packing of produce from other locations
If infected produce goes through a packing facility, both machinery, equipment, and workers can be contaminated. If these workers or equipment are then moved into a production facility this can spread the virus into a previously healthy crop.
Train staff to recognise plant diseases and to employ best practice for a high health crop
Staff should be trained in basic symptom recognition and hygiene measures to contain outbreaks of pathogens when they occur, including best practice for plant handling etc.
Limit movement of staff between facilities
Ideally staff should not be moving between production facilities and should never move between packing and production facilities
Prohibit consumption susceptible hosts on the premises
Growers and employees eating fruit of tomato and pepper which may be contaminated could inadvertently pass on the virus.
Washing of hands
Staff should wash hands using soap before entering and on leaving a glasshouse.
Use disposable gloves
Disposable gloves should be used and changed as often as necessary.
Use disposable clothes and overshoes
Workers should use disposable clothing, such as a disposable over-suit and shoe covers, to minimise introduction and spread of the pathogen. These should be put on when entering a glasshouse and should be disposed off on leaving the glasshouse and not reused. If this is not feasible for full-time staff, then they should be issued clothing to wear only in the glasshouse which is then regularly laundered at high temperature. Growers could use clothing in different colours to denote workers from different parts of the site to prevent cross contamination.
Cleaning and disinfection of equipment and tools
Equipment and tools which come into contact with an infected plant can act as a source of virus for onward transmission. Equipment such as picking carts, sprayers, and hand tools (e.g. pruning knives) should all be cleaned and disinfected routinely. Tools should ideally be disinfected during pruning activities between individual plants. Equipment should be cleaned and disinfected at least between crops.
In the event of an outbreak
The main advice is to implement good hygiene measures as a matter of course, be vigilant for any unusual symptoms in the crop, and report any symptoms to manager if suspected.
Suspected outbreaks of a viroid or virus in a tomato crop or any other non-native plant pest should be reported to the relevant authority:
For England and Wales, contact your local APHA Plant Health and Seeds Inspector or the PHSI Headquarters, Sand Hutton, York. Tel: 01904 405138
For Scotland, contact the Scottish Government’s Horticulture and Marketing Unit:
For Northern Ireland, contact the DAERA Plant Health Inspection Branch:
Tel: 0300 200 7847 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For additional information on UK Plant Health please see:
Author: Adrian Fox, Fera