SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency’s (NEA) ongoing effort to suppress the urban Aedes aegypti mosquito population and fight dengue - Project Wolbachia - has received a technological boost.
NEA’s Environment Health Institute (EHI) announced on Tuesday (Sep 18) that it has teamed up with Verily (formerly named Google Life Sciences), the life sciences and healthcare company of US-based Alphabet Inc, to come up with an advanced, more efficient way to sort and release the male Wolbachia mosquitoes for Phase 2 of the field study.
The partnership was announced at the opening of the 5th Singapore International Dengue Workshop on Tuesday.
The sex-sorting technology uses artificial intelligence (AI) to accurately separate the males from the females. NEA currently uses a funnel-type device to separate them since female mosquitoes are larger than males. The AI sorting is less laborious and more accurate.
“Such a technology would prevent accidental release of female mosquitoes, which is important to ensure the effectiveness of the Wolbachia methodology in suppressing the urban Aedes mosquito population,” said NEA deputy chief executive officer Khoo Seow Poh.
Project Wolbachia uses Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes to suppress the Aedes aegypti mosquito population in Singapore. This is done because when male Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes mate with urban female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the eggs spawned do not hatch, resulting in a fall in the overall population.
AUTOMATED RELEASE CART
Verily has also developed an automated release cart to dispense male Wolbachia mosquitos. It has been specially designed and tailored to fit into the lifts and long and narrow corridors of HDB blocks.
The cart is set to be tested at NEA’s Tampines West study site later this month.
For the trial, two carts will be deployed on the ground level and on higher floors - to ensure that the male Wolbachia mosquitoes are released more evenly.
With more of such male Wolbachia mosquitoes in the environment, there is a higher chance that the existing female Aedes aegypti will mate with them and lay sterile eggs, according to NEA.