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Smartphone Device IDs Dangerous Mosquitoes

Mosquito analyzer

System analyzing mosquito species (Vivian Abagiu, University of Texas – Austin)

31 August 2018. A study shows a smartphone-based system can quickly and inexpensively identify the species of mosquito that carries many infectious diseases, as well as a natural enemy of those mosquitoes. The system, developed by a computational biology lab at University of Texas in Austin, is described in yesterday’s issue of the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is considered a worldwide health threat for its role in spreading several dangerous viruses, including yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika that the university says affect some 100 million people worldwide. While Aedes aegypti is believed to originate in the Mediterranean region, it has spread to continental Europe, the Americas (including parts of the U.S.), Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia.

Researchers from the computational biology research group at UT-Austin led by Andrew Ellington are seeking simple and inexpensive methods for identifying this species of mosquitoes, with readily available technologies. Labs today require highly specialized and expensive processes, such as polymerase chain reaction, a form of genomics analysis for this task. A team led by research associate Sanchita Bhadra devised a technique for identifying Aedes aegypti using the ubiquitous smartphone.

Their system analyzes the nucleic acids, chemicals making up a mosquito’s DNA, by combining elements of two elements of traditional lab analytic techniques — loop-mediated isothermal amplification and oligonucleotide strand displacement — or LAMP-OSD. Their technique treats a dead mosquito with enzymes that amplify and illuminate its nucleic acids. A smartphone’s camera, an iPhone 6 in this case, shoots an image of a dead mosquito over a 3-D printed box with the illuminated nucleic acids, and software in the phone indicates if the mosquito is from the Aedes aegypti species.

The UT-Austin system can also indicate if the mosquito is affected by a natural bacterial enemy known as Wolbachia. This bacterium is present in up to 60 percent of mosquitoes, but not the Aedes aegypti. Among the methods used to control disease-spreading mosquitoes is to distribute Wolbachia as a pesticide in the local insect population, and the LAMP-OSD test is designed to indicate the presence of that bacteria in the captured mosquito.

The researchers tested their device with 90 mosquitoes caught in the field, and the system offers accurate identification of Aedes aegypti species 97 percent of the time, while returning just 2 percent false positives. The team achieved these results on test mosquitoes after 3 weeks of storage at human body temperature of 37 degrees C or 98.6 F. The system also accurately identified Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes without any false positives. “This test can happen without involving a lot of staff and equipment to make sure Wolbachia is effective and spreading as anticipated,” says Bhadra in a university statement.

Taking part in the study is UT-Austin’s DIY Diagnostics project, a student research program to develop simple health diagnostics. The researchers plan to extend the technology to determine if the captured mosquitoes are carrying specific disease-causing viruses.

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