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Armigeres subalbatus mosquito of the ‘Nagasaki colony’ having a meal [Image: CDC/ Frank Collins, PhD. acquired from Public Health Image Library]

With the warm weather of summer quickly approaching, a common enemy known as the mosquito will soon make a reappearance. Mosquitoes are more than just an irritation. In many areas of the world, mosquitoes are also carriers of infectious diseases such as malaria and the Zika virus.

While the mosquito is a  major problem to many, scientists at Microsoft Research are attempting to exploit some mosquito “talents”. Mosquitoes are natural samplers of blood-born pathogens. By designing traps to capture mosquitoes, scientists can obtain samples of local pathogens. Extracting genetic information from these mosquitoes and making a comparison to a large database will allow scientists to quickly identify local pathogens, and even discover new ones. Complicated algorithms will be required to analyze the genetic data. It will be essential to differentiate between information from mosquitoes, hosts, and pathogens.

This proposal renders great possibilities for large scale epidemiology studies. By loading these mosquito traps onto man-made drones, scientists could increase sampling coverage and make the first comprehensive mapping of global pathogens. It is possible that this method could even detect new pathogens, and help avoid the onset of an epidemic.

Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Prasidda Khadka, a graduate student from the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program at Harvard University, for providing expertise and opinions on this subject matter.

Managing Correspondent: Bing Shui

Media Coverage: How to use mosquitos to combat diseaseThe Economist

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