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Alliance to Build Photonic Mosquito Control Device

Anopheles mosquito

Anopheles mosquito (James Gathany, CDC)

3 March 2015. A collaboration between a social enterprise and lighting technology company aims to develop a laser device to control disease-carrying mosquitoes without pesticides. Financial details of the partnership between Global Good and Lighting Science Group, a designer of advanced industrial and residential lighting systems, were not disclosed.

Global Good brings together government, business, and not-for-profit organizations to develop new technologies to improve the life of residents in the poorest regions in the world. The organization is a partnership between Microsoft founder Bill Gates and new technology developer Intellectual Ventures in Bellevue, Washington. Intellectual Ventures acquires patent rights to new inventions, then arranges their licensing, financing, and development with business and not-for-profit organizations as sponsors.

One of the inventions acquired by Intellectual Ventures is a laser-based alternative to pesticides for controlling mosquitoes, including those that spread diseases, such as malaria. According to World Health Organization, malaria occurs in nearly 100 countries, with some 207 million cases in 2012, causing 627,000 deaths. The disease is spread through infections from a parasite spread by female Anopheles mosquito bites, where the parasite multiplies in the liver, then infects red blood cells. Symptoms, including headache, fever, and vomiting, occur 10 to 15 days following transmission from a mosquito.

The laser device, called a photonic fence, contains cameras to spot flying insects, LEDs to illuminate the target, sensors to measure the wing speed and other unique characteristics of the female mosquito, and controllers to aim an ultraviolet laser beam to hit the mosquito. On-board software distinguishes the female mosquito from males (that don’t spread disease) and other insect species, determines no bystanders are in the line of sight, and then shoots a beam strong enough to kill the mosquito.

The photonic fence is designed to protect the perimeter of a designated area, such as a clinic, and would complement other control measures, such as bed nets. A deployed system would also use a minimum of power to kill mosquitoes, so the photonic fence can run on a self-contained power source, such as solar panels. Its developers believe the technology can also be applied to protecting crops from flying insects, also without chemical pesticides.

Lighting Science, in Melbourne Florida, develops LED industrial and residential lighting solutions that the company says are more environmentally friendly and energy efficient than traditional light sources. Under the deal with Global Good, Lighting Science is licensing the photonic fence technology from Intellectual Ventures to develop prototypes for field testing in health, commercial, and residential applications.

The parties believe the collaboration can have benefits beyond malaria control. “What began by putting the world’s deadliest animal, the mosquito, in our sights with a laser, has opened up new advances in the way we can use light to protect communities and crops from a range of disease-bearing insects,” says Global Good vice president Maurizio Vecchione in a joint statement. “For example, the export potential of high-value crops could increase dramatically if a light-based perimeter was available to both monitor and eliminate pests, instead of possibly unsafe or ineffective insecticides.”

The following 1-minute video shows mosquitoes on the receiving end of a photonic fence laser beam.

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