Project Premonition aims to detect pathogens before they cause outbreaks — by turning mosquitoes into devices that collect data from animals in the environment. There is a plethora of known species of mosquitoes, which bite a wide range of animals from dogs and chickens to snakes and mice. Each bite may collect a few microliters of blood, containing genetic information about the animal that was bitten and pathogens circulating in that animal. In fact, it has already been shown that the DNA collected from mosquitoes can be used to identify: (1) the types of animals that were bitten, (2) mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika and West Nile that infect both mosquitoes and hosts (e.g. humans and animals), and (3) previously unknown viruses of unknown origin.
Mosquitoes are also the carriers of the Plasmodium malaria parasite and spread the disease by biting humans. Knowledge about the occurrence and spreading of Plasmodium strains, and particularly mutants that have become resistant to the common malaria therapeutics like artemisinin-based drugs, is of the essence to treat infected patients with the appropriate medicines. The ongoing debate over whether artemisinin-resistant Plasmodia originating from South-East Asia have meanwhile entered the African continent proves that tools for qualification and quantification of Plasmodium population dynamics are becoming extremely important for rolling back malaria.
However, identifying mosquito hot-spots and catching and analyzing mosquitoes isn’t as easy as it sounds. To accomplish these tasks, drones are being developed that autonomously locate mosquito hotspots Robotic traps are used to identify and collect interesting specimens, and cloud-scale genomics and machine learning algorithms are being employed to search for pathogens. These technologies are being developed in a collaboration among researchers at Microsoft Research (MSR), University of Pittsburgh, Johns Hopkins University, University of California Riverside, and Vanderbilt University utilizing the Microsoft Cloud, and in collaboration with public health organizations.
We at Jomaa Pharma are confident that these sophisticated high-tech developments in the very near future will be able to support the fight against malaria by mapping the spreading of mutant mosquito strains resistant to certain antimalarial drugs.
Read more on the website of Project Premonition.