From West Nile to yellow fever, malaria to Zika, mosquitos are the leading carrier of some of the world’s most dangerous diseases.

A “Star Wars” Approach to the Battle on Zika
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A “Star Wars” Approach to the Battle on Zika

From West Nile to yellow fever, malaria to Zika, mosquitos are the leading carrier of some of the world’s most dangerous diseases. According to the CDC, the first cases of Zika in the Western Hemisphere were identified in May 2015 in Brazil. And just six months later the virus had been identified in an additional thirteen countries and territories in the Americas.

Recently, Intellectual Ventures was highlighted by the Associated Press for its “Star Wars approach” to fighting the spread of the Zika virus. Arty Makagon (AM), Technical Project Lead for Photonic Fence – IV's laser-based, mosquito-killing technology – discusses the role lasers could play in limiting the spread of Zika and other pathogens spread by flying insects.

Insights: What role can Photonic Fence play with Zika?

AM: “The Zika virus is unique in that everyone with a hand in trying to solve this problem is starting at ground zero. For example, there is no vaccine. And while the Photonic Fence is not a ‘silver bullet’ solution to Zika, it can act as one of many potential interventions in a broader strategy to address the virus - or any pathogen transmitted by flying insects for that matter. The role technology plays will be one part in a comprehensive approach that involves other important elements like a good, sound public health program.”

Insights: What sort of recent testing has the team done and how many mosquitos are we trying to kill?

AM: “One of the interesting things about Aedes aegypti – the mosquito that spreads Zika (and other tropical fevers) – is that unlike the Malaria carrying Anopheles mosquitos, it bites during the day.

Photonic Fence is designed to operate both day and night and is expected to work in any weather scenario where most insects can fly. We have successfully done outdoor testing in a realistic setting for the monitoring subsystem that tracks insects in mid-flight. We haven’t shot insects outdoors just yet but it’s certainly part of the development plan.

We’ve also had a lot of folks ask us about whether they can buy one for their backyard. But our focus has always been on ‘going big,’ per se.

The Photonic Fence is intended as a perimeter or area defense system. We like to think about it in two ways. One way is to create an exclusion or ‘pest-free’ zone. So if you imagine a large, highly-populated public area that you want to keep a fence around, that would be one scenario.

Another scenario is creating a depletion zone. Consider perhaps a mass deployment of the device on lamp posts throughout a city focused on depleting the entire mosquito population as a whole. We’re focused on big impact with the device. Private use, say for a half acre backyard, while conceivable is probably too small.”



Insights: Is the Photonic Fence ready to go to the field?

AM: “We’ve demonstrated a level of maturity in the research and development to the point where we are considering commercialization partners. Various U.S. federal agencies have shown interest in Photonic Fence from an agricultural pest control perspective and from a disease intervention standpoint – particularly in regard to mosquitos.”

Breakthroughs like these power our belief that invention is the driver of all progress. Learn more about the Photonic Fence here. Intellectual Ventures. A global inventions company.

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