USF researchers develop mosquito “smart trap” to help fight malaria
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USF researchers develop mosquito “smart trap” to help fight malaria

TAMPA, Fla. — Malaria kills more than 600,000 people a year worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Mosquitoes are the primary culprit behind transmission and now researchers at USF are harnessing artificial intelligence as a way to help.

What You Need To Know

  • Malaria kills more than 600,000 people worldwide
  • A new type of trap is designed to target carrier types of mosquitoes
  • They are scheduled to be deployed in Africa

The researchers have developed a “smart trap” that can identify different mosquito species and subspecies in a matter of seconds. They say this is key because only certain types of mosquitoes can transmit diseases to humans.

“What people don’t realize is they think all mosquitoes are the same, but each mosquito has a unique morphological pattern,” said Sriram Chellappan, a professor of computer science and engineering at the university.

Those patterns are identified when a camera inside the smart trap takes photographs of the captured mosquitoes. The photos are then uploaded to a computer program that identifies each species through the use of artificial intelligence.

For example, there are spots on the wings of an Anopheles stephensi, an invasive species now spreading through parts of Africa and threatening to upend malaria control efforts in those regions. Researchers say that’s because unlike other established Anopheles species, the stephensi have adapted to urban areas.

By the end of the year, Chellappan said plans are in place to deploy prototypes of the smart trap in Africa and if Anopheles stephensi are identified, targeted control methods can be used to stop an infestation from taking hold.

If the trap is successful, Chellappan said it can be used here in the United States to combat malaria-carrying species, including the potential emergence of the Anopheles stephensi.

“People we work with in the CDC believe it’s only a question of time when this mosquito is going to invade the United States,” said Chellappan.

Last summer, mosquitoes made headlines across the country, with at least 11 cases of malaria reported nationwide. Seven of those were in Sarasota. Because of Florida’s climate, researchers believe the state is the potential ground zero for the spread of mosquito-born illnesses in the US.

The research and development of the new USF smart trap are part of a 3.6 million dollar, five-year grant that includes the mosquito dashboard the university unveiled last year.