In an effort to track and identify mosquitoes that spread disease around the world, a group of scientists from Oxford University and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew have created a tool that can be used with nothing but a smartphone.
HumBug is a tool that uses sensors to note when and where a mosquito is found, while also recording its flight tone (the sound produced by its wing movement). The data is uploaded to a central server that identifies the species through a set of algorithms, according to HumBug’s site.
These algorithms can be installed in any appliance that is able to record sound — like a smartphone, which has the added benefit of being able to study the info on the spot. One of the scientists from Oxford, Steve Roberts, told the Telegraph that it works like Shazam, the app that identifies songs after hearing a clip of one.
“Smartphones are ideal platforms because they are equipped with a wide range of sensors, as well as being internet-connected, which enables continuous data transfer,” HumBug’s site explains.
“Where a low-power device is required to maintain continuous operation, static loggers can be deployed, for example in high-risk places such as a bedside table, where the presence of a person and a potentially a light source would act as an attractor for mosquitoes. For animals, these loggers can take the form of a cattle tag, a device attached to the animal and capable of continuous monitoring.”
HumBug is currently being tested in Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo, thanks to new funding secured by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and could mean big news in global health as mosquito-borne diseases kill more than 1 million people every year, and the insects are difficult to track.
This is especially true as climate change continues to affect the patterns insects follow, according to the Telegraph.
“It's really quite difficult to get primary data about the numbers of different species of mosquito in the wild,” Roberts, the principal investigator, told the Telegraph. "It tends to be done by trained mosquito experts going out with traps collecting the mosquitoes, looking at them under microscopes, identifying the species, measuring the wing lengths and all these kinds of things.”
Something like HumBug could be revolutionary in terms of data collection.
Mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and Zika disproportionately affect communities living in poverty. Preventing the spread of these diseases is an important step in ensuring good health for all and notable efforts include the widespread distribution of mosquito nets, which has prevented millions of deaths worldwide.
The increase in malaria interventions like the distribution of bed nets prevented at least 670 million cases of malaria illness and 4.3 million malaria deaths between 2001 and 2013, according to the World Malaria Report 2019.
Another trend has involved genetically altering mosquitos to be unable to bite and/or produce offspring, which limits the number of mosquitos carrying and transmitting diseases.
Innovative thinking like HumBug could further the progress made towards the goal of preventing disease and, therefore, ensuring good health and well-being for all.