Biotech companies are partnering with the U.S. military to develop a better mosquito repellent.
Why it matters: Mosquito-borne diseases kill more than 1 million people each year, and existing repellants have limited effectiveness. Using synthetic biology to develop a superior sustainable repellent could help change that.
Driving messages: Ginkgo Bioworks announced Thursday that it had won an order with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a skin-based microbiome mosquito repellent.
- The order is worth up to $ 15 million and includes partners from medical dermatology company Azitra, the Latham BioPharm Group and Florida International University.
How it works: DEET has been the gold standard for mosquito repellants since the 1940s, but it can cause skin irritation, damage clothing, and lose its effectiveness within hours.
- Ginkgo and his partners will use high-throughput testing to discover technical microbial compounds that can repel mosquitoes and mask the chemical volatiles released by humans that naturally attract insects.
- “The idea is to create a repellant that you don’t have to reapply,” says Nádia Parachin, program director for organism engineering at Ginkgo.
Context: The treaty is part of the military’s ReVector program, which aims to protect the U.S. military from disease-causing insects.
- The project also shows how Ginkgo – which synthesizes more DNA than any other company in the world – is working to become the AWS of synthetic biology and provide its microbial engineering expertise and manufacturing capabilities as a service.
- Just as the military can use cloud computing services for their needs, “they can trust us to be their general-purpose biology provider,” said Zach Smith, director of government business at Ginkgo.
What to see: Whether the final product is effective and safe, and whether it will eventually reach hundreds of millions of people for whom better mosquito repellent is a matter of life or death.
Go deeper … CDC: Tick and mosquito disease has tripled over 13 years