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The High-Tech Device That’s Like a Bouncer for Mosquitoes

The new traps, made by Microsoft, overcome one of the most frustrating aspects of insect surveillance: There are 56 species of mosquitoes in this buggy bayou city, and conventional traps suck in nearly all of them.

Entomologists want only a few disease-carrying types, including Aedes aegypti, which carries Zika and dengue, and Culex quinquefasciatus, which spreads West Nile virus.

To find them, scientists must freeze whole batches caught in the usual traps and tediously hand-sort them with tweezers under a microscope.

Making matters worse, most traps suck the insects through a fan and then whirl them around a mesh basket for hours.

“The white scales get rubbed off, so you lose the white lyre on the back that tells you it’s aegypti,” said Pamela Stark, a county entomologist. “June bugs get pulled in and stomp around like cows.”

The Microsoft trap, by contrast, has 64 compartments, arrayed like studio apartments in a skyscraper.

When an insect flies in, it crosses an infrared beam that reads the pattern of the shadows thrown by its buzzing wings, said Ethan Jackson, a computer scientist who leads Microsoft’s Project Premonition, which created the trap with advice from mosquito experts at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

If it’s a species the county wants, a clear plastic door shuts “like a Venus fly trap,” Dr. Jackson said. The trap can catch the right species almost 90 percent of the time.

Each compartment also records and uploads to a website the time, temperature, humidity and ambient light — data that records when each species hunts for blood, which is a good time to spray.

The first 30 prototypes, of which Houston has 10, cost several thousand dollars each, Dr. Jackson said. But he hopes to get the price down below $300, so even poor countries where malaria and yellow fever kill thousands of victims could afford them.

Selling traps is not the point, he…

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