The tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta (Meyrick), is a highly destructive pest of tomatoes, causing damage to leaves, stalks, buds, and fruits. Native to South America, T. absoluta is now found throughout Europe, South Asia, Africa, parts of Central America, and the Caribbean. Adults are small, with a wingspan of approximately one cm and lack distinctive markings, making morphological identification difficult. Larvae are also difficult to identify and resemble those of many other gelechiids. Due to the extensive time spent and expertise required for morphological identification, and the imminent threat to the North American tomato crop, we have developed a rapid molecular test for discriminating individual specimens of T. absoluta using a probe-based real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay. The assay is able to quickly distinguish T. absoluta from similar-sized moth specimens that are attracted to T. absoluta pheromone lures in the United States and is also able to identify larvae of T. absoluta. Decreased identification time for this critical pest will lead to more rapid identification at ports of entry and allow for more efficient trap screening for domestic monitoring programs.
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Vol. 113 • No. 3