Fighting dengue fever with AI

Singapore’s National Environmental Agency (NEA) is roping in Alphabet life sciences research outfit Verily’s technology to separate male mosquitoes from female ones in an ongoing project to tackle dengue fever.

Dubbed Project Wolbachia, the multi-year project aims to curb the female mosquito population by infecting the dengue virus-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with Wolbachia bacteria that have been injected into male mosquitoes. The bacteria, transmitted during mating, would prevent hatching of mosquito eggs.

To control the precise distribution of male mosquitoes in targeted areas including the corridors of Singapore’s public housing blocks, the NEA will use Verily’s new automated release system, contained within a 1.3m x 1m cart, and lightweight enough to be pushed by an individual.

Verily’s release system should help to alleviate the challenges faced by the NEA in releasing male mosquitoes in high-rise and densely built urban environment – the mosquitoes moved easily from surrounding areas into the release sites, reducing the suppression effect of Wolbachia at release sites.

Additionally, Project Wolbachia will use Verily’s mosquito sex-sorting technology, which has been successfully used to separate male and female mosquitoes using a computer vision algorithm and artificial intelligence.

This will ensure that only Wolbachia-infected male mosquitoes are released into the wild, and prevent the build-up of female Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes that would have resulted from the release of fertile female Wolbachia Aedes mosquitoes over time.

Not doing so would could eventually result in Wolbachia-Aedes taking over as the dominant mosquito strain, and hamper the continued use of Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes to suppress the Aedes population in those areas, according to the NEA.

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