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  • Scientists have created a new app designed to identify dangerous mosquitoes based on sounds the insects make.
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  • The app, called Abuzz, is aimed at helping fight major diseases spread by mosquitoes.
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  • The diseases - such as malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever - kill hundreds of thousands of people each year.
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  • Haripriya Vaidehi Narayanan is one of the researchers who helped develop the app.
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  • She began work on the project as a graduate student at Stanford University.
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  • She is now with the Department of Immunology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
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  • Narayanan told VOA that anyone with a mobile phone could use the app to identify mosquitoes.
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  • "If they see a mosquito around, they just open the phone, open up the app, point their phone towards the mosquito and hit the record button," she said.
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  • "Then, when the mosquito flaps its wings and starts flying around, it makes that noise, that annoying buzzing noise.
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  • That noise is what gets recorded by the Abuzz app," she added.
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  • Many diseases that mosquitoes carry do not have cures or vaccines.
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  • So, targeting the flying insects is the best way to control them.
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  • "The most important step is to know where the mosquitoes are," Narayanan said.
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  • Traditional methods for hunting mosquitos are costly and can take a very long time.
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  • The process also requires labor-intensive trapping as well as trained scientists to identify the insects.
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  • Manu Prakash is a professor of bioengineering at Stanford University and a lead investigator on the project.
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  • He says that out of about 3,500 different mosquito species, only about 40 are dangerous to humans.
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  • Prakash says the goal of the project was to find out whether the mosquitoes around a person's house are just an annoyance -- or whether they are possibly dangerous.
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  • To find out, his team decided to listen.
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  • When mosquitoes move their wings up and down, they produce buzzing sounds.
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  • But each kind of mosquito makes a somewhat different buzzing noise. The app records these sounds.
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  • Users of the app can get an answer by recording as little as one or two seconds of the buzzing sound.
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  • The app compares this recording to a collection of other recordings.
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  • It then predicts which species of mosquito it is most likely to be.
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  • Billions of people around the world can use this tool with their phones.
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  • So, the researchers say they will be able to monitor mosquitoes on a much larger basis than in the past.
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  • By crowdsourcing mosquito information worldwide, the app can help build maps of where dangerous mosquitoes are.
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  • This can help scientists and health officials identify areas where disease is likely to break out and where to target mosquito control.
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  • Prakash said he believes this kind of widespread community effort can be an important step in fighting mosquito-causing diseases.
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  • He added that the tool uses machine learning to get better as more people use it.
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  • "So, we're very excited that if ... hundreds of thousands of people are recording mosquitoes every day - especially around the world - it will create the kind of community that is needed," Prakash said.
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  • The development team is expected to release the Abuzz app to the public in the coming months.
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  • Another group of researchers at the University of Oxford in Britain has been developing a similar app, called Mozzwear.
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  • That app is designed to identify malaria mosquitoes by the sound they make.
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  • I'm Bryan Lynn.