Microsoft has launched Project Premonition, an initiative that will identify pathogens in mosquitoes to foresee worldwide distribution of transmitable diseases and prevent them. The IT company will use drones and robotic traps to capture mosquitoes, sequence their genetic contents and look for known pathogen genetic sequences.
Many infectious diseases -Ebola, Chikunguya, SARS- have risen in the past 20 years. Either originated from previously unknown or reappeared pathogens, Emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) are a threat to human well-being. Current systems to prevent EIDs epidemics are not effective detecting pathogens residing inside hosts, and useless to detect currently unknown ones. Human activity is inadvertently transporting them and changing climate, making it more favorable to their spread.
Project Premonition aims to map the distribution of disease causing pathogens and prevent their spread into sensitive areas, thus avoiding human contagion. To that end, Microsoft is developing innovative technology like robotic traps, and taking steps to enhance computing power for metagenomic analysis.
Project Premonition Key Technologies
- Mosquito as a device: mosquitos are captured and their genetic contents analized for pathogen genetic sequences. This indirect sampling avoids having to sample animals.
- Autonomous mosquito traps: cheaper than current methodology, these traps have sensors that distinguish mosquitoes from other insects, capture them and store them for analysis.
- Autonomous deployment: human collection of mosquitoes is slow, expensive and inefficient, as ideal collection sites are usually not within easy reach (dense forests, derelict urban structures, etc). Microsoft is designing drones to place and retrieve mosquito traps from difficult locations.
- Big metagenomics: captured mosquitoes are gene sequenced. These sequences are analyzed to find pathogen genes, map pathogens’ movement in space and time, predict future movements and prevent diseases.