Scientists at the University of Glasgow and partner institutes have developed an inexpensive, fast and simple way to identify the ageing mosquitos which transmit the deadly malaria parasite.

It uses infrared technology and artificial intelligence to accurately identify the age and species of malaria mosquitoes. Only mosquitoes which live to about 10 days can transmit malaria therfore knowing the age of a mosquito can help inform the risk of disease. 

Around 40,000 mosquitoes from East and West Africa were used in the study. By shining infrared light on individual mosquitoes, scientists could identify the chemical changes of ageing mosquitos using an AI algorithm and validate their age predictions on wild mosquitoes with current methods, achieving similar results.

The study was led by the University of Glasgow-Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine (IBAHCM) and School of Chemistry, and the Ifakara Health Instititute (IHI) in Tanzania and the Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé (IRSS) in Burkina Faso. 

Doreen Siria, lead author from the Ifakara instititute, said: “Until now, the only way to know the age of a mosquito was via complex dissection to gauge the age of female mosquito ovaries – a process which is expensive, time-consuming and can’t be done at scale.”

Dr Francesco Baldini, from the University of Glasgow, added: “We believe this new method is greatly needed in the fight against malaria, a disease which continues to kill many people and children each year. 

“With this infrared technology we have developed a tool that has the potential to be scaled up, and would greatly help in testing new products and solutions against diseases transmitted by mosquitoes.

“This approach could also be applied to other diseases, and could be used to evaluate the attempts to limit the expansion of invasive mosquito species across Europe and the United States.”

In 2020, there were an estimated 241 million cases of malaria worldwide, according to the WHO, killing around 627,000 people; and while there are vector controls in place to reduce the numbers of mosquitos that transmit the disease in certain parts of the world -such as insecticides or bed nets – the effectiveness of these interventions can be hard to measure.