Scat-collecting drones to help preserve threatened species

UWA
Microsoft

The University of Western Australia has been awarded a grant to help its work protecting threatened species.

Microsoft announced today that the university had received an AI for Earth compute grant to assist with its role as a node institution for the DNA Zoo project.

The conservation-focused consortium brings together zoos, universities and other research institutions to generate and release genomics resources that can help improve understanding of threatened species.

In Australia the initiative is prioritising the 40 most critically threatened mammals, although additional resources could extend that to 437 identified endangered species.

Microsoft said that the AI for Earth grant would support a project using scat retrieval drones (SRDs) to collect material for DNA-based species monitoring.

Cloud computing is a good fit for genomics because of the sizeable amounts of data involved; according to the director of the Australian DNA Zoo node, UWA Associate Professor Parwinder Kaur, in the case of a single mammal a genome could be up to 3.2GB.

“To properly understand the genome, it needs to be read 50 times – creating a 172GB data challenge for a single animal. Multiply that challenge across entire populations of threatened species and the scale of the computing and analysis problem is clear.

“Using Microsoft cloud, artificial intelligence and machine learning we hope to be able to automate and accelerate genome assemblies and subsequent analysis.”

In April, Microsoft announced that projects by Monash University, Griffith University, Queensland University of Technology, InFarm, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Bush Heritage Australia would receive AI for Earth grants.

The US$50 million AI for Earth launched in 2017 as part of Microsoft’s $115 million AI for Good initiative. In 2018 it was joined by the $25 million AI for Accessibility and the $40 million AI for Humanitarian Action.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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