Following his success in eradicating a major source of malaria, the technology developed by a public health researcher at the University of South Florida has been implemented by insect control agencies across Africa and the entire Tampa Bay region. .
Associate Professor Benjamin Jacob has created a smartphone app that pairs his algorithm with a drone and satellite images to determine the locations of previously known mosquito breeding habitats to treat them. on the same day. The success of the technology led him to launch Seek and Destroy, a program that enables him to train government agencies on how to use the app in infectious areas of Cambodia, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda – they are allowed to quickly and effectively direct resources to vulnerable areas prior to disease. outbreaks can occur.
“What those countries are facing is a tragedy beyond description,” Jacob said. “For me, training local people is huge. They want the knowledge and I think they are willing to do anything to stop malaria.”
Jacob focuses most of his research on Uganda, where malaria is the leading cause of death, especially among children under the age of five. As published in American Journal of Entomology, he discovered that each of the 120 houses he studied had at least 200 mosquitoes. With the help of local insect control officials he trained, Jacob destroyed 100% of the identified habitats in 31 days and eliminated blood parasite levels in previously treated and suspected patients in malaria for 62 days.
The system works by identifying specific environments and organisms through their unique “fingerprint” -; a red-green-blue value associated with a species or habitat. For Seek and Destroy to be successful, Jacob trained the drone to sense and retrieve image datasets through his algorithms that allow the system to understand important features, such as mud or vegetation, based on their fingerprints. Each image is processed and graded with identified water sources on the surfaces.
Data were classified into different categories based on the presence or absence of mosquito larvae and whether the water was positive for mosquitoes. Paired with Jacob’s algorithms, the drone is 100% accurate at locating bodies of water where mosquitoes are likely to breed.
Jacob has been researching mosquitoes since 2010, but he didn’t start testing artificial intelligence algorithms on drones until 10 years ago. It was then that he discovered the possible impact of predictive mapping on mosquito control.
“Instead of spraying the whole field, we can just target the areas where the mosquitoes are.”
With the ability to identify precisely where habitats are, harmful insecticide use is reduced and the risk of mosquitoes developing resistance is also reduced. Implementing the program at the county or state level can save taxpayers money because it costs thousands of dollars less than aerial fumigations.
Through a grant from the Joy McCann Foundation, Jacob’s mapping revealed more than 9,000 mosquito habitats with dengue and zika viruses in Hillsborough, Manatee and Polk counties. He is currently training local authorities on the app and hopes a larvae control system will be completed by the summer of 2023.
Jacob is continuing his research with a new program, Slash and Clear, that will extend his current technology to identify black fly larval, a species known to cause onchocerciasis-a parasitic disease that cause of blindness. The success of the program will determine whether the technology can be used worldwide to control any type of invasive or hazardous vector.
University of South Florida (USF Innovation)