About the project


The expected increase in plant pests due to climate change and the intensification of food production systems hinders the reduction in the use of pesticides in the EU by 50%, one of the ambitious goals of the Farm2Fork strategy. The need to control new pest invasions and already established pests is, in fact, increasing pesticide use. Hence, new tools and methods are needed to prevent new pest entry into Europe, and to use pesticides more efficiently for established pests.

PurPest aims to exploit the specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released by pests or by the plants attacked by certain pests for the development of a sensor system prototype (SSP) to detect the VOCs and timely identify target pests.

sensor system prototype (SSP) to detect the VOCs and timely identify target pests
Figure 1 Illustration of the PurPest concept
Illustration of the PurPest concept

PurPest will become a game changer by providing plant inspectors, importers, nurseries and growers with reliable, affordable and fast detection devices to locate and eradicate plant material and wood infested with these quarantine pests, thereby greatly reducing their spread into- and between European countries and preventing them from establishing populations in new areas.

The impacts of a pest detecting SSP are:

  • a drastic decrease of the risk of new pest invasions into Europe and reduce the need for control measures by enabling systematic and reliable screening of plant material for pests. In-field detection would enable site specific control of pests, further reducing the pesticide use;
  • when implemented in nurseries, the prevention of the distribution of pest infested plant material from exporting to importing countries.


 The main objective of PurPest is to control serious plant pests during import and to manage them in the field by developing a unique concept enabling pest detection in a timely and non-invasive manner.

1Define pest specific and general VOCs emitted by target pests or infested plants

PurPest will carry out extensive experiments where 10 host plants will be exposed to five pests, including two quarantine pests, one priority pest and two established pests. These will be done in the greenhouse (for quarantine pests, priority pests and established pests) and in the field (established pests). Environmental conditions will be controllably varied. VOC emissions will be collected and thoroughly analysed to enable PurPest to generate a comprehensive database with the chemical signatures of pest specific VOC patterns for the target pest-host systems in our study. This database will be made publicly available.

2Develop a state-of-the-art SSP that detects the VOCs

PurPest will develop SSPs that will detect the chemical signatures defined by objective 1. To obtain the required detection limit (<ppb), sensitivity and selectivity, sensor components based on 9 different principles will be studied and developed. The best performing novel sensor components will be selected for integration into the final SSP.

3Test and validate and demonstrate SSP under import and field conditions

Advanced data analysis, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence will enable multivariate data analysis to detect patterns and more accurately identify the VOCs obtained in objective 1 and thereby enabling identification of a pest attack. The testing strategy will start from experimental proof of concept (TRL3) to technology validation (TRL5) and demonstration (TRL6) under import conditions and fruit orchards.

4Identify drivers of pest establishment and spread

In the long-term, the SSP developed in PurPest can be used to identify the most important drivers of pest spread and establishment. To facilitate this, we will characterize their development at high and low temperature, and generate data on host range, dispersal and multi-species interactions. This data can then be fed into pest risk models, atmospheric transport models and the global pest and disease database to better manage the target pests.

5Maximize the Implementation and impact of PurPest

PurPest will analyse the potential socio-economic and ecological impact of reducing the risk of repeated entry of the target pests across the EU region and associated countries. We will focus on 1) plant, forest and farm productivity, 2) operator health and 3) life quality as well as the 4) beneficial effects on biodiversity and ecosystem services. This analysis will be the basis for formulating EU policies to ensure appropriate and systematic testing of plant material during import. Dissemination, exploitation and communication are key elements in our implementation strategies and will be geared to stimulate interest, understand benefits and reduce potential adaptation barriers.