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Workshop: AI for Accelerated Materials Design (AI4Mat)

A deep learning and data archaeology approach for mosquito repellent discovery

Jennifer Wei · Marnix Vlot · Benjamin Sanchez-Lengeling · Brian Lee · Luuk Berning · Martijn Vos · Rob Henderson · Wesley Qian · D. Michael Ando · Kurt Groetsch · Richard Gerkin · Alexander Wiltschko · Koen Dechering

Keywords: [ cheminformatics ] [ insect control ] [ machine learning ] [ data archaeology ]


Insect-borne diseases kill >0.5 million people annually. Currently available repellents for personal or household protection are limited in their efficacy, applicability, and safety profile. Here, we describe a machine-learning-driven high-throughput method for the discovery of novel repellent molecules. To achieve this, we digitized a large, historic dataset containing ~19,000 mosquito repellency measurements. We then trained a graph neural network (GNN) to map molecular structure and repellency. We applied this model to select 317 candidate molecules to test in parallelizable behavioral assays, quantifying repellency in multiple pest species and in follow-up trials with human volunteers. The GNN approach outperformed a chemoinformatics model and produced a hit rate that increased with training data size, suggesting that both model innovation and novel data collection were integral to predictive accuracy. We identified >10 molecules with repellency similar to or greater than the most widely used repellents. This approach enables computational screening of billions of possible molecules to identify empirically tractable numbers of candidate repellents, leading to accelerated progress towards solving a global health challenge.

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