20 July 2016
School students from across the region are helping to fight dangerous mosquito-borne diseases in a new ‘citizen science’ program led by the University of the Sunshine Coast.
Senior Lecturer in Molecular Engineering Dr Joanne Macdonald is training students from two Sunshine Coast schools to use an innovative new trap to capture and identify mosquitoes before examining them under a microscope.
Dr Macdonald has launched the pilot program at Kawana Waters State College and Montessori International College at Forest Glen and hopes to provide students with traps to use in their own homes.
The project is being run in collaboration with Sunshine Coast company OzMozeCo, which has developed a non-toxic mosquito trap that can be made at a much lower cost than conventional traps.
Dr Macdonald said the project aimed to educate children and their families about mosquito control measures while also collecting data on mosquito distribution and disease.
“By using low-cost traps, we can put the equipment in the hands of dozens of school students, and consequently collect information on a much larger scale than trying to do it all ourselves,” she said.
“The broader goal for us globally is to reduce numbers of the Aedus aegypti mosquito, which spreads diseases like dengue fever and the Zika virus. It breeds in urban settings and it’s proven to be incredibly difficult to control.
“If kids are educated about control measures, they can pass that knowledge on to the wider community, and we can track the progress using these traps.”
Funding is currently being sought to continue the pilot program in two more Sunshine Coast schools, with plans to eventually expand the project to schools in Brisbane, Cairns and Papua New Guinea, Fiji, East Timor and other global locations.
Dr Macdonald said she expected citizen science projects like the mosquito trapping program to grow in importance for researchers.
“Ultimately, it allows us to collect more information, and it also creates a positive engagement experience between the community and scientists,” she said.
“The students we’ve trained so far have really enjoyed the hands-on nature of our project. They were completely engaged and asked a lot of really intelligent questions.”
For details on how to support the program, go to: www.usc.edu.au/mozzie-research
— Gen Kennedy