Bitten by the e-bug

Published: Friday 31 October 2003

-- Technology is the new buzzword in the field of entomology. The Oregon State University in the us has received a us $1.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a method for identifying insects. The plan is to use pattern recognition systems of the kind employed by a computer to tell apart fingerprints.

The researchers admit that while identifying two-dimensional, black and white images of fingerprints may be easy, recognising insects -- three-dimensional and in an enormous range of sizes, shapes and colours -- will be a formidable task. The environmental payoff will, however, be massive. Among the first insects to be identified would be stonefly larvae, sensitive indicators of decline in water quality due to factors such as sedimentation and chemical pollution. Tom Dietterich, a computer science professor at the university, is convinced of the benefits of such a technique: "...It will revolutionise water quality monitoring.... And in forest management, ecologists are hampered by the lack of a way to easily measure insect populations and biodiversity. We might be able to speed up that process about a 1,000 times."

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