Microsoft's Project Premonition Recruits Mosquitoes To Help Prevent Disease Outbreaks

By Sarah Benton Feitlinger on April 12, 2017

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Image Credit: NIAID (Mosquito-Carried Diseases) [CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

Given that more than 65% of infectious diseases that affect humans originate from other animals, the most logical way to stop them would be to locate the source. However, studying wildlife for clues about the origin of the next epidemic is like looking for a needle in a haystack. As a result, scientists and health officials are forced to combat illnesses like the recent Zika Virus, after they spread.

Now, tech giant Microsoft has come up with a groundbreaking idea. What if we could use mosquitoes, who are responsible for the spread of most viruses, as “early warning systems?” This would give researchers the opportunity to nip the problem in the bud and prevent viral outbreaks.

Grenada: Satellite view shows most places appear as possible hotspots (green) (Photo Credit: Microsoft)

Project Premonition will begin by deploying autonomous drones to rural areas to identify mosquito hotspots. According to Microsoft, the current method of locating mosquito-infested zones using satellite imagery does not yield precise results. In an experiment conducted on the island nation of Grenada, the traditional satellite technique identified almost the entire island as being infested with the insects. [image above]. However, the drone, which can get closer to the surface, was clearly able to pinpoint pools of waters and unsealed containers and structures [image below], where mosquitoes thrive.

Once the areas have been accurately mapped, traps will be set to collect insect specimens. However, given that there are over 3,600 species of mosquitoes, each carrying different types of viruses depending on the animals they target, capturing them randomly would be of little use.

Grenada: Drone view allow standing water and structures to be directly observed (Photo Credit: Microsoft)

To identify the specific species that the scientists are seeking, Project Premonition has created a mosquito trap with 64 smart cells that monitor the insects as they fly inside. If the mosquito’s wing movements match that of a species they're interested in studying, the cell door closes. Every time an insect is captured, the smart net also collects relevant environmental data such as time, temperature, and light levels. The weatherproof trap, which can last for over 20 hours in hot and humid climates, is designed to learn from its mistakes, to become increasingly efficient at catching the required species.

The trapped insects will then be brought to the Project Premonition lab for a detailed DNA analysis of the blood they have extracted from victims. According to Microsoft scientists, the few microliters contain vital information about the type of animal the species targets as well as the existence of any viruses, both known and new, that it may be capable of transmitting. Microsoft will utilize its massive computing power and specially developed algorithms to sort through the data rapidly and try to detect pathogens early. This, the company believes, will allow scientists and healthcare workers to stop viruses before they spread.

Analyzing the data collected by robotic nets (Photo Credit: Microsoft)

Though the technology is still in its early stages, the results of Project Premonition’s inaugural tests, in collaboration with the Harris County Public Health Division in summer 2016, are encouraging. The 87 experiments conducted using the robotic traps captured over 20GB data about mosquito behavior, including information about ones carrying the Zika virus. Who would have thought that pesky mosquitoes would become our allies in the fight against diseases?

Resources: microsoft.com. geekwire.com

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123 Comments
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  • mosquitoTuesday, June 13, 2017 at 11:06 am
    Cool but I still don't like mosquitos.
    • physicist
      physicistFriday, June 9, 2017 at 6:43 am
      That is good a lot of scientists work really hard. I do want to know where the diseases come from. I hope that those mosquitoes don't bite me. Today I saw a big mosquito and I know they have some kind of virus in them. 😨🤞😦😲
      • KiwiSliceWednesday, June 7, 2017 at 11:33 am
        are they hurting mosquitoes? They might be hurting people, but they are still alive too. Why can't we make a habitat and catch all of them and put them there where they can't get to humans or other animals but they can still feel at home.
        • eatmyshorts
          eatmyshortsThursday, June 8, 2017 at 9:32 am
          Sadly I think they are hurting mosquitos. And I don't think people are taking time out of their day to catch a disease and put it in a manmade habitat.
        • a_dragonballfan
          a_dragonballfanTuesday, May 23, 2017 at 4:52 pm
          I think that the idea of using mosquitoes to help prevent mosquito-caused diseases is an extraordinary idea. I am in 5th grade and I am using this as my presentation in class. My name is Trinity and I think that my peers are going to like this idea.
          • JenteraMonday, May 15, 2017 at 8:33 am
            I got bit by a mosquito and I never stretched it. There is still a big red mark on my leg
            • OMGITZ_MeMonday, May 15, 2017 at 7:24 am
              i hate mosquitos
              • a_dragonballfan
                a_dragonballfanTuesday, May 23, 2017 at 4:53 pm
                Same! They are so annoying.
              • djgj13Monday, May 15, 2017 at 7:23 am
                not cool
                • abbsMonday, May 15, 2017 at 7:15 am
                  this is really so real about mosquitos.
                  • prasunWednesday, May 3, 2017 at 5:19 pm
                    OMG
                    • hiThursday, April 27, 2017 at 10:40 am
                      same mario gamer

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