November 1, 2017 7:48:05 pm
Indian-origin scientists at Stanford are encouraging people from across the world to record the annoying high-pitched whine of mosquitoes using their cellphones, in a bid to produce the most detailed global map of the disease-causing insects. Mosquitoes can carry deadly diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, dengue, West Nile virus, chikungunya and Zika.
Diseases spread by mosquitoes result in millions of deaths each year and the burden of their effects is carried most strongly by places with the fewest resources. The Prakash Lab at Stanford University in the US, led by assistant professor Manu Prakash, is looking for citizen scientists to contribute to Abuzz, a mosquito monitoring platform. “We could enable the world’s largest network of mosquito surveillance – just purely using tools that almost everyone around the world now is carrying in their pocket,” said Prakash.
“There are very limited resources available for vector surveillance and control and it is extremely important to understand how you would deploy these limited resources where the mosquitoes are,” he said. With enough contributions from citizen scientists around the world, Abuzz could create a map that tells us exactly when and where the most dangerous species of mosquitoes are most likely to be present and that could lead to highly targeted and efficient control efforts.
Abuzz is a low-cost, fast, easy way to gain an incredible amount of new data about mosquitoes. Contributing to this research is as simple as holding a cellphone microphone near a mosquito, recording its hum as it flies and uploading the recording to the Abuzz website. The researchers take the raw signal, reduce background noise and run it through an algorithm that matches the buzz with the species that is most likely to have produced it.
Once the match is found, researchers will send the person who submitted the recording information about the mosquito they found and mark every recording on a map on the website, showing exactly where and when that mosquito species was sighted.
Critical to the success of Abuzz is the fact that mosquito species can be differentiated by the frequency of their wingbeats, which is what produces their characteristic whine. Researchers created a mosquito sound library, organised by species, which powers the matching algorithm.
Overall, they captured about 1,000 hours of mosquito buzzing from 18 lab-reared and two wild mosquito species, all of which were species relevant to human health. Recognizing that people who could benefit most from Abuzz may not have access to the latest smartphones, researchers designed the platform so that it can work off recordings from almost any model of cellphone.
The algorithm has worked using as little as one fifth of a second of sound – although recordings that are a second or longer are the most desirable, researchers said.
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