Engineers and entomologists have teamed up to capture and analyze lots of high-resolution images of mosquitoes in a swamp in Tanzania.

They want to use the data to develop better netting and physical protection against Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes—the species responsible for transmitting the malaria parasite.

To observe how mosquitoes engage with insecticide-treated barriers such as netting, researchers have in the past mainly relied on recording the final landing location, which does not give a full picture of how the insects approach and handle protective barriers.

anopheles gambiae

A hut and 2 cameras

Entomologists at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine are carrying out experiments at the site in Tanzania, which has a stable mixed population of mosquitoes, some resistant to insecticide and others not.

They built a hut that resembles common housing and sleeping arrangements. They’re using advanced cameras and near infrared backlighting to photograph the insects at night. Mosquitoes can’t perceive near infrared light, so it doesn’t affect their natural behavior.

Two cameras capture 50 images of mosquitoes every second. For every hour of operation, each camera takes 360,000 images—each image is 4 million pixels, or 1.4 terabytes in total size.

To process the large number of high-resolution images, engineers at the University of Warwick developed new software, which has processed more than 50 terabytes of data so far.

“There is a lot of interest in the analysis of so-called ‘big data’—here we have the added complexity of capturing information from the field with everything powered from petrol-fueled generators, and we need very robust algorithms to be tolerant of the natural variability in behavior exhibited by wild mosquitoes,” says David Towers, an engineering researcher professor at Warwick.

The team has published initial results in Nature Scientific Reports.

The work is part of a research project called AvecNet, funded by the European Commission. The next phase of the project will involve eight cameras, collecting up to 10 terabytes of data per hour, to map not just the sleeping area but also the hut as a whole. This will enable the team to fully map the behavior of the mosquitoes as they approach targets.

This text is published here under a Creative Commons License.
Author: Tom Frew-University of Warwick
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