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Scientists develop first-of-its-kind method to track epidemic-causing insects: 'We are prepared to fight this potential threat'

"Florida is ground-zero for mosquito-borne diseases in the U.S."

"Florida is ground-zero for mosquito-borne diseases in the U.S."

Photo Credit: University of South Florida

The overheating of our planet is bad news for almost all life on Earth — but it's great news for mosquitoes, which are seeing their habitat ranges expand into unprecedented places because of warmer climates. 

In order to help combat these dangerous disease-spreading insects, researchers at the University of South Florida are putting artificial intelligence (AI) on the case, the university's website reported.

Their project, funded by a $3.6 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of the National Institutes of Health) is called EMERGENTS (Enhancing Malaria Epidemiology Research through Genomics and Translational Systems). It will establish a center for malaria research in west-central Africa, reportedly using AI in some capacity to track and surveil mosquito populations.

The tracking will focus specifically on the Anopheles stephensi mosquito species — one of the world's primary malaria vectors.

"Anopheles stephensi is a very efficient vector of malaria, and something that has adapted itself to the human environment," said Ryan Carney, a University of South Florida associate professor of integrative biology who is co-leading the research. "Therefore, it can cause huge, unprecedented epidemics in urban centers, which we have already started to see unfolding in Africa. Florida is ground-zero for mosquito-borne diseases in the U.S. and although Anopheles stephensi has not yet been detected domestically, our citizen science infrastructure and species identification technologies ensure that we are prepared to fight this potential threat."

Other recent methods of combating malaria in Africa have included a pilot program to deliver a vaccine that reportedly caused deaths to drop by 13% in young children over the course of the four-year program.

New research has also indicated that adding common types of soap to pesticides can increase their effectiveness dramatically while also potentially making them more safe for humans.

In Djibouti (and elsewhere), a special, genetically modified type of mosquito has been deployed to kill the mosquitoes that carry diseases. The upside of this approach is that it does not involve the use of toxic pesticides.

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