Drone that Traps Mosquitoes May Prevent Epidemics

Close up of a Mosquito sucking human blood. smuay/Shutterstock

When you build a better mouse trap, mother nature will build a better mouse.

Hopefully, this won't happen with Microsoft's next mosquito trap project. Which includes drones. Drone-fighting mosquitoes is not something I want to see mother nature building. *shudders*

But back to drones. Microsoft has begun “Project Premonition.” The project aims to detect pathogens in animals before they make humans sick. To do this, the team will send out drones that zoom around the wilderness, hunting and trapping mosquitoes. They will then return the mosquitoes to the laboratory, where their blood can be sampled and any pathogens swimming around in their bodies can be detected using gene sequencing. 

They hope that in the future their drones will be used to identify signs of an early epidemic, like dengue fever or avian flu, and maybe even stop epidemics before they start. 

“The ability to predict an epidemic would be huge,” said Douglas Norris, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who is working on the project.

“If you know they’re coming, you can prepare your response ahead of time,” said James Pipas of the University of Pittsburgh.

Ethan Jackson holds up a drone in Grenada. Microsoft

This sort of trap won't be zooming around mosquito nests too soon though. “This is at least a five-year vision, no doubt about it,” said Ethan Jackson, the Microsoft researcher who is spearheading the project. “But along the way, the advances we make in each of these areas have a lot of value in their own right.”

An updated mosquito trap has been a long time coming as many of the nets that Norris has used to study mosquitoes haven't had design changes since the 1960s or even the 1950s. Old traps need expensive batteries that need changing a few times a year. In fact, some of the chemicals used are so dangerous that airplane safety regulations ban them from flights.

Not to mention that traps need bait. Ideally bait would come in the form of dry ice. Unfortunately, this isn't something that you stumble across every day in parts of Africa, so researchers turn to chickens and even humans to attract mosquitoes. The old traps also collect bugs indiscriminately, meaning that researchers have to pluck out the mosquitoes from all of the insects. Norris calls it a “soup.” (I call it “a swarming monstrous hell bundle”, but I digress.)

Project Premonition wants to do away with that by using a sensor that automatically sorts the mosquitoes from other bugs. On top of this, the trap would even use chemicals to preserve the mosquitoes for analysis.

Norris said that those improvements could save countless hours of lab work. “Any one of them would be a huge advantage to people who work in the field,” Norris said. “It’s like a Holy Grail. It would be awesome.”

 

 

Details of Project Premonition via Microsoft

[Via Microsoft]

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