Students from Stanford University have created a project they call “Shazam for Mosquitoes.” The team suggests that our smartphones can record mosquito wing beats and distinguish one type of mosquito from another.
Shazam for Mosquitoes was done in an attempt to fight the Zika virus. The project would also record the mosquitoes into a distribution map that could work worldwide and in real-time.
Fighting The Zika Virus
The project proponents showed that regular cellphones can record the wing beats of mosquitoes and distinguish between different types of mosquitoes, such as the Culex mosquitoes – the insects responsible for the spread of the West Nile virus – and Aedes mosquitoes, the ones that contributed to the spread of Zika. It usually takes less than half a second of flight for the insect’s acoustic signature to be recorded through the new technology.
The group hopes that Shazam for Mosquitoes will become a crowdsourcing initiative that lets users send in audio recordings of mosquitoes around them. Through time coordinates and GPS, the sound samples will be sorted and integrated into a global mosquito distribution map.
The current method involves trapping mosquitoes and sorting these by hand. The automated tool proposed by Shazam for Mosquitoes will make mosquito identification and sorting easier. Another major advantage of this technique is that the application could help identify the type of mosquito regardless of the background noise, which could have been a major problem in the implementation of this idea.
However, there were some skeptics of this initiative. One of their arguments is that it would be unclear whether the specimens identified as part of a species actually carry a disease or not. Another possible issue is that mosquitoes’ wing beat frequencies could vary because of a series of environmental factors, from temperature to the degree of humidity.
While preliminary tests have been carried out, more research is necessary in order to perfect the formula and assure an accurate identification.
The research was presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
More than 4,200 travel-associated cases have been reported in the United States. As part of the fight against Zika, genetically modified mosquitoes will be released in the Florida Keys in a trial that aims to reduce mosquito population.
“The company releases genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes into the wild. When they mate with female Aedes aegypti, their offspring die,” NPR’s Greg Allen explains.
According to the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, the insecticides could also be reduced once this operation is implemented, as the insects will carry out their own task naturally and a formal intervention will most likely be unnecessary.
Previous trials conducted in different sites such as Brazil and the Cayman Islands were found to be effective in contributing to a larger reduction of the mosquito population. However, the trial – approved by the FDA in August – is highly controversial because many believe that releasing genetically modified beings into the environment will not go without consequences.
The decision to use genetically modified mosquitoes comes after a long line of attempts when it comes to controlling the spread of the virus in the United States. During the last months, there have been more than 200 Zika infections in the state of Florida alone. However, some people have expressed opposition to the trial, arguing that there have been no infections in the Keys, making this measure unnecessary.
Nevertheless, the trial release got enough yes votes from Florida Keys residents on Election Day, and the measure was approved.
Other measures have also been taken to reduce the population of Aedes mosquitoes in Florida, such as using bats in Miami Beach as an alternative to spraying pesticides.
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