Researchers are growing new applied sciences to fight mosquito-borne illnesses

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USF researchers have received a four-year $ 900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to use artificial intelligence to fight mosquito-borne diseases. Ryan Carney, Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology, and Sriram Chellappan, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, will lead a multidisciplinary effort to collect data through smartphone apps like NASA’s GLOBE Observer Mosquito Habitat Mapper. App users can upload pictures of mosquitoes from anywhere in the world and automatically identify their species and their potential to transmit viruses such as West Nile, Dengue and Zika. Mosquito-borne diseases kill nearly 3 million people each year.

“It’s really a grassroots approach to using the computers we all carry in our pockets and smartphones to fight the deadliest animal on the planet,” said Carney.

Real-time monitoring is critical to effective mosquito control. Currently, this is the only way to control mosquito-borne diseases. This work scales forecast models for communities while building a global database that tracks the life cycle of mosquitoes. It is an inclusive approach that requires a lot of helping hands in what Carney calls “citizen epidemiology,” in which citizen scientists and students participate as data collectors.

“These robust models are better tools for citizens to contribute data and reach county epidemiologists to get better disease predictions,” Chellappan said.

When uploading images, Chellappan’s algorithms categorize anatomical components of the insect and map them to known characteristics of each species. Over time, this data collection will better inform the mosquito habitat prediction and disease prediction maps with unprecedented detail. Artificial intelligence operators regularly monitor the algorithm in order to retrain the model and adapt human expertise.

The collaboration includes public education coordinators and mosquito control districts using this technology in K-12 classrooms to enable students to learn mosquito biology and contribute to data collection.

The USF scientists have already categorized over 30,000 images in their preliminary work with the Hillsborough County Mosquito Management Program and are planning to expand their AI program by another 200,000 images. They hope to turn this collaboration and data sharing into a global surveillance system that will locate sources of transmission earlier and improve control of mosquito-borne diseases.

“We are trying to build this infrastructure so that we can take action against persistent diseases, but are also better prepared for the next Zika,” said Carney.

Carney and Chellappan are currently trying to add PhD students and a postdoctoral fellow to their teams. Learn more about their project by visiting CarneyLab.org and csee.usf.edu/~sriramc.

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