Scientists are using a machine learning approach to track disease-carrying mosquitoes

Using genetic and environmental data, the research team plans landscape connectivity in mosquitoes that are known vectors of dengue, chikungunya and Zika.

Logan, Utah, USA – You may not like mosquitoes, but they do love you, says Utah State University biologist Nora Sarman. And wherever you lead, they will follow you.

In addition to the annoying bites and buzzing, some mosquitoes carry harmful diseases. Aedes aegyptiThe so-called yellow fever mosquito and the subject of a recent study by Saarman and colleagues, it is the primary vector for transmission of viruses that cause dengue, chikungunya and Zika, as well as yellow fever in humans.

Aedes aegypti It is an invasive species to North America that has become widespread in the eastern United States, “says Saarman, associate professor in the Department of Biology at USU and the Ecology Center at USU, whose research focuses on evolutionary ecology and population genomics. We study the genetic connectivity of these species as they adapt to new landscapes and expand their range. “

With Evelyn Bliss of the University of California, Davis, Jeffrey Powell, Andaljisa Cacon, and Giuseppe Amatoli of Yale University, Sarman published results from a machine learning approach to mapping landscape connectivity in the February 22, 2021 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The team’s research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

“We’re excited about this approach, which uses a random-forest algorithm that allows us to overcome some of the limitations of classic spatial models,” says Sarman. “Our approach combines the advantages of a machine learning framework with an iterative optimization process that integrates genetic and environmental data.”

In its native Africa, Aedes aegypti A forest dweller, he would bring sustenance in uninhabited or seldom inhabited landscapes. The mosquito has since specialized in feeding humans, and it thrives in human-affected areas, preferring litter piles, scattered highways and well-watered gardens.

“By using our machine learning model and satellite imagery provided by NASA, we can combine this spatial data with the genetic data that we have already collected to mine the very specific movement of these mosquitoes,” says Sarman. “For example, our data reveal their appeal to human transport networks, suggesting that activities such as plant nurseries are inadvertently moving these insects to new areas.”

Public officials and land managers once relied on pesticides, including DDT, to keep pesky mosquitoes away.

“As we now know, pesticides have caused environmental damage, including harm to humans,” she says. “At the same time, mosquitoes develop resistance to pesticides that we have found are safe for the environment. This creates a challenge that can only be solved with more information about where mosquitoes live and how they move.”

Sarman adds that tough survivors not only acclimatize to different food sources and are resistant to pesticides, they also adapt to varying temperatures, allowing them to expand into cooler ranges.

Current approaches to controlling disease-carrying mosquitoes focus on biotechnological solutions, including advanced genetic modifications.

“We hope the tools we’re developing will help managers identify effective ways to keep mosquito populations small enough to avoid disease transmission,” says Sarman. While native species play an important role in the food chain, so are invasive species, such as Aedes aegypti Pose a major risk to public health that requires our vigilant attention. “


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