Virginia Tech entomologist Muni Muniappan has warned of Tuta absoluta’s likely arrival into the United States since he began monitoring the pest's spread throughout Africa in 2012. Thanks to a joint grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Muniappan's team and collaborators will be able to model the pest's entry into the United States — protecting the country's billion-dollar tomato industry — before irreparable damage is caused. Tuta absoluta is a tomato pest native to South America. If left unmitigated, it has the potential to destroy 100 percent of tomato crops. In 2016, the pest caused a "tomato emergency" in such countries as Nigeria, where tomatoes are a lifeline for many smallholder farmers. With the U.S. as one of the world's leaders in tomato production, the pest's impact would be severe if nothing is done to stop it. The USDA's Food and Agriculture Cyberinformatics Tools Initiative awarded the University of Virginia's Biocomplexity Institute and Virginia Tech the four-year, $500,000 grant to project the pest's movement and rate of spread into the U.S. The model, to be developed by the Biocomplexity Institute, will map the spread of invasive species over time, accounting for factors such as climate, biology, and demographic information.