dsRNA-mediated pest management of Tuta absoluta is compatible with its biological control agent Nesidiocoris Tenuis.
RNAi-mediated insect pest management has recently shown promising results against the most serious pest of tomato, the tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta. This study aimed to investigate whether dsRNA (dsTa-αCOP) designed to target the T. absoluta-αCOP gene could cause adverse effects to its biocontrol agent, the mirid predator, Nesidiocoris tenuis. Oral exposure of N. tenuis to dsRNA (dsNt-αCOP) designed to target N. tenuis-αCOP resulted in a 61%, 67% and 55% reduction in its transcript level in comparison to the sucrose, dsGFP and dsTa-αCOP treatments, respectively. In addition, significantly higher mortality of 57% was recorded in dsNt-αCOP-treated N. tenuis when compared to the sucrose (7%), dsGFP (10%) and dsTa-αCOP (10%) treatments. Moreover, the predation rate of ~33-39 Ephestia kuehniella eggs per N. tenuis adult dramatically reduced to almost half in the surviving dsNt-αCOP-treated N. tenuis. This worst-case exposure scenario confirmed for the first time that the RNAi machinery is functional in this species and that the risk of exposure through the oral route is possible. In contrast, dsTa-αCOP did not cause any sub-lethal effects to N. tenuis upon oral exposure. Oral exposure of T. absoluta to dsTa-αCOP resulted in 50% mortality. In the context of a biosafety risk assessment of RNAi-mediated insect management, investigating the effects on non-target organisms is essential in order to include this method as part of an integrated pest management strategy. Based on our laboratory assays, RNAi-mediated control is compatible with the biological control of T. absoluta by its natural enemy N. tenuis, adding the RNAi approach in the armoire of integrated pest management of T. absoluta.