American technology companies
are bringing automation and robotics to the age-old task of battling mosquitoes in a bid to halt the spread of Zika and other mosquito-borne maladies worldwide.
Firms including Microsoft
Corp and California life sciences company Verily are forming partnerships with public health officials in several US states to test new high-tech tools.
In Texas, Microsoft
is testing a smart trap to isolate and capture Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, known Zika carriers, for study by entomologists to give them a jump on predicting outbreaks.
Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences division based in Mountain View, California, is speeding the process for creating sterile male mosquitoes to mate with females in the wild, offering a form of birth control for the species.
While it may take years for these advances to become widely available, public health experts say new players brings fresh thinking to vector control, which still relies heavily on traditional defenses such as larvicides and insecticides. “It’s exciting when technology companies
come on board,” said Anandasankar Ray, an associate professor of entomology at the University of California, Riverside. “Their approach to a biological challenge is to engineer a solution.” The Zika epidemic that emerged in Brazil in 2015 and left thousands of babies suffering from birth defects has added urgency to the effort. While cases there have slowed markedly, mosquitoes capable of carrying the virus are spreading in the Americas, including large swaths of the southern United States.
The vast majority of the Zika cases reported in the United States
so far are from travellers who contracted the virus elsewhere. Still, two states — Texas and Florida — have recorded cases transmitted by local mosquitoes, making them prime testing grounds for new technology.