The high-pitched whine of a mosquito is annoying, but scientists have developed an app that uses this sound to detect dangerous mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes kill hundreds of thousands of people each year by spreading microbes that cause diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever. However, researcher Haripriya Vaidehi Narayanan says anyone with a mobile phone can help fight these diseases by using the Abuzz app to identify mosquitos.
“When you see a mosquito around us, just open the phone, open the app, point your phone at the mosquito and hit the record button,” said Narayanan, who started working on the project as a PhD student at Stanford University. She is now in the Department of Immunology at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“When the mosquito flaps its wings and flies around, it makes that noise, that annoying buzz … that sound is recorded by the Abuzz app,” she added.
Many mosquito-borne diseases don’t have cures or vaccines, so controlling mosquitoes is the best approach to combating these diseases.
“If we are to fight diseases caused by mosquitoes like malaria or dengue fever, the most important step is knowing where the mosquitoes are,” Narayanan said.
Listen to answers
Traditional monitoring of mosquitoes can be time consuming and expensive, as it requires labor-intensive traps and trained scientists to identify the tiny insects.
According to Manu Prakash, professor of bioengineering at Stanford University and lead researcher on the project, there are around 3,500 different species of mosquitoes, but only about 40 are dangerous to humans.
“Do you have an annoying mosquito or a potentially dangerous mosquito in your garden?” Said Prakash.
To answer that question, Prakash’s team decided to listen. When mosquitoes flap their wings up and down, they create this characteristic hum. Each type of mosquito makes a slightly different buzz.
Users record a mosquito sound for just a second or two with the Abuzz app on their mobile phone. The app compares this record with a database and decides which mosquito species is most likely.
Since the tool – every cell phone or smartphone – is already in billions of pockets, the team can monitor mosquitoes on a much larger scale than before.
“This is something that doesn’t require fancy smartphones, just the bare bones. Basic phones are actually good enough,” Prakash said.
By crowd-sourcing information on mosquitoes from around the world, the app creates maps of where dangerous mosquitoes are found. This will help scientists and health authorities predict where disease outbreaks might occur and where mosquito control should be targeted.
Prakash believes that this kind of community engagement is key to tackling big problems like mosquito-borne diseases.
“The more people get involved, the better the tool gets. We’re thrilled that if you literally pick up hundreds of thousands of people every day, in particular, you know, all over the world, kind of community that is needed,” said Prakash .
The Abuzz app will be available to download for free in the next month or two.
Another group of researchers at the University of Oxford in the UK is developing a similar mobile phone app called Mozzwear, which identifies malaria mosquitoes based on their sound.