Emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) are diseases whose incidence has increased in the last two decades. EIDs can be caused by both previously unrecognized pathogens and pathogens whose incidence continues to rise, re-surge, re-emerge, or expand in range. Current examples include diseases such as Ebola, Chikungunya, Dengue, SARS, and MERS. They pose significant human health, economic, and security risks.
Pathogen surveillance systems try to prevent disease epidemics by detecting pathogens before many people become sick. However, EIDs are difficult to monitor because: (1) between 60% and 75% of EID outbreaks are caused pathogens residing in animal populations, and animals are difficult to monitor; (2) many EIDs are caused by previously unknown pathogens, such as MERS, Heartland virus, and Bourbon virus, so existing surveillance systems cannot detect them; and (3) movements of humans populations and changes in climate create more places where diseases can emerge.
Project Premonition seeks to detect pathogens in animals before these pathogens make people sick. It does this by treating a mosquito as a device that can find animals and sample their blood. Project Premonition uses drones and new robotic mosquito traps to capture many more mosquitoes from the environment than previously possible, and then analyzes their body contents for pathogens. Pathogens are detected by gene sequencing collected mosquitoes and computationally searching for known and unknown pathogens in sequenced genetic material.
In March 2015, Microsoft Research and Saint George's University of Grenada partnered to catch mosquitoes manually across the 133-square-mile island of Grenada, so drones can be trained to do this instead of people. Data from this study will be used to design autonomous deployment systems and new algorithms for detecting pathogens in mosquitoes.
– Ethan Jackson
Lead Researcher, Project Premonition