How Microsoft AI helps to save endangered species

September 19, 2019

The University of Western Australia (UWA) has just recently received a grant from Microsoft for the DNA Zoo initiative, and that’s one of the most beautiful things that happened recently. The goal of the initiative is to protect animals and plants that are at risk of extinction. DNA Zoo is going to cover over a million species, and it is hard to underestimate the need for technology.

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One of the most fascinating technologies involved both in gaming and DNA Zoo initiative is Artificial Intelligence. That’s precisely the tool UWA is going to use to save endangered animals and plants. Researches are going to collect genome samples and analyze it to understand the patterns.


How does it work?

Researches will involve scat retrieval drones to collect genome samples from over 40 endangered mammals in Australia. Then they’re going to use Microsoft cloud computing to process the DNA and democratize the analysis of the monitoring. All the samples will be open source to allow other researchers to analyze the data. Moreover, these samples will be integrated with other data, and this huge pool of information will be applied to machine learning to improve the results.

The University of Western Australia believes that collecting DNA researchers can spot certain patterns that will explain why exactly do a certain species come to the extinction. Therefore, there will be a chance to reverse or decline the processes and save endangered animals and plants.

One of the brightest examples is quokkas. These adorable animals live on Rottnest island and feel very comfortable there. But on the mainland, they struggle a lot, trying to survive.


What are the challenges?

The biggest issue is that researches will have to work with big data, which is always quite a challenge. The DNA of one species can run up to 3.2 GB. And the DNA Zoo initiative is going to work with thousands of such samples. Moreover, one genome must be read fifty times to decode it properly. This will create another 172 GB of data for each mammal. So you can imagine the enormous amount of data that needs to be computed and analyzed.

Another challenge is that all the actions must be executed as rapidly as possible. Australian flora and fauna were heavily affected by recent environmental issues: bushfires in Tasmania and Victoria, extended drought, and unusually high temperatures. Flooding rains and very low temperatures at night only added up to the situation.


Why is it so important that DNA Zoo is using drones and AI?

Drones eliminate the need for on-ground tracking that was used before. It requires a lot of time and resources, slowing down the process. With drones, scientists can search through difficult terrain covering vast areas much quicker and safer. Some remote parts of Western Australia are really cumbersome to monitor. And drones will be the perfect solution here.

Artificial Intelligence, in its turn, will take care of data analysis. Computers are much better at working with information than people. So using machine learning researchers can receive more detailed and informative insights and make decisions much faster. Considering the current environmental problems, it is crucial for DNA Zoo to act quickly. Hopefully, Microsoft, together with UWA, will succeed in this complex mission. If the initiative solves the issues, we will get a chance to improve the nature of the whole planet.