02:31 GMT +314 December 2018
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    The Aedes Aegypti mosquito larvae are photographed at a laboratory of the Ministry of Health of El Salvador in San Salvador

    Vampire Slayer: Verily, Singapore Fight Mosquitos using AI, Genetic Engineering

    © AFP 2018 / MARVIN RECINOS
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    A new initiative between researchers from Verily Life Sciences, a subsidiary of Google's parent company Alphabet, and Singapore officials plans to battle mosquito-borne illnesses by using artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms.

    Verily has teamed up with Singapore's National Environment Agency (SNEA) to cull Aedes mosquito populations, which spread diseases such as yellow fever, dengue, and most recently the Zika virus. 

    The project, called ‘Project Wolbachia Singapore' (Project Debug), was announced at the Fifth Singapore International Dengue Workshop (SIDW) on Monday and hallmarks the agency's entry into Southeast Asia, Verily program manager Yanni Yoong and product manager Nigel Snoad said in a blog post on Monday.

    The project uses sex-sorting vision algorithms and AI to reduce the amount of time spent categorizing male and female mosquito populations manually, and will begin using the technologies during the second phase of company's field study. 

    READ MORE: ‘Unprecedented' High Number of Dengue Fever Cases in Hong Kong as Disease Spikes 

    Verily said that it was "an exciting time for the Debug team" as the city-state's new ecosystems, mosquito behaviors and human environments posed new challenges.

    "With our first field study, Debug Fresno, launching just a year and a half ago, we continue to move forward into new environments, representative of areas where dengue, Zika, and other mosquito-borne diseases commonly spread," the blog post read. 

    Over a million Wolbachia-infected male Aedes mosquitos were released in communities throughout Australia's north Queensland in April in conjunction with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), James Cook University, and the University of Queensland. 

    Although the males do not bite or spread diseases, they mate with a female and produce eggs which fail to hatch, rendering populations sterile and curbing mosquito populations. 

    An automated release system has been designed precisely control the dispersion and distribution of female Aedis mosquitos producing sterile eggs into Singapore's toughest breeding grounds: high-density, high-rise urban areas. 

    READ MORE: Deadly Virus Spreads Worldwide, Claims First Death in Canada 

    Hong Kong was recently hit by dozens of dengue fever cases, which broke out on the islands of Cheung Chau and Wong Tai Sin in late August. Nearly 400 million cases and thousands of dengue-related deaths are reported each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes. 

    The WHO mulled using genetic engineering to fight Zika-plagued regions back in 2016. 

    Similar initiatives have already begun, with British genetic engineering company Oxitec manufacturing genetically-modified mosquitos for years. The Bill and Melina Gates Foundation partnered with Oxitec with a new cooperative project worth $4 million announced June 19.

    Related:

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    Tags:
    Aedes Aegypti Mosquitoes, mosquito, epidemic, Verily, Singapore
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