Identification of arthropods important in disease transmission is a crucial, yet difficult, task that can demand considerable training and experience. An important case in point is that of the 150+ species of Triatominae, vectors of Trypanosoma cruzi, causative agent of Chagas disease across the Americas. We present a fully automated system that is able to identify triatomine bugs from Mexico and Brazil with an accuracy consistently above 80%, and with considerable potential for further improvement. The system processes digital photographs from a photo apparatus into landmarks, and uses ratios of measurements among those landmarks, as well as (in a preliminary exploration) two measurements that approximate aspects of coloration, as the basis for classification. This project has thus produced a working prototype that achieves reasonably robust correct identification rates, although many more developments can and will be added, and—more broadly—the project illustrates the value of multidisciplinary collaborations in resolving difficult and complex challenges.
Gurgel-Gonçalves R, Komp E, Campbell LP, Khalighifar A, Mellenbruch J, Mendonça VJ, Owens HL, de la Cruz Felix K, Peterson AT, Ramsey JM. (2017) Automated identification of insect vectors of Chagas disease in Brazil and Mexico: the Virtual Vector Lab. PeerJ 5:e3040 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.3040
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