While DEET is an effective mosquito repellent, it can cause irritation and must be reapplied every few hours. Scientists are currently working on a more harmless alternative with longer cuts, in which genetically modified bacteria are introduced into people’s skin.
The Live Biotherapeutic Product (LBP) repellent is being developed as part of the ReVector program led by DARPA (the agency for advanced defense research projects). The actual research is carried out by project partners of the Boston-based biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks. Florida International University (FIU); medical dermatology company Azitra; and the Massachusetts-based Latham BioPharm Group.
The technology is focused on changing the microbiome of human skin, the diverse community of microbes that live on all skin. These microbes produce odors, which scientists believe is one of the key factors in blood-nourishing female mosquitoes.
“The idea is that we would do a current one that would contain [engineered] Microbes, “says Dr. Matthew DeGennaro of the FIU.” It would change our odor profile … There are some core odors that are attractive to mosquitoes that most people have. We will mask this. “
Elements like our body heat and exhaled carbon dioxide also play a role in the development of mosquitoes. However, DeGennaro says these factors generally trigger feeding behavior rather than attracting the insects to a specific host.
Because each person’s skin microbiome is unique, additional research is needed to determine how effective the LBP is on a wide variety of human subjects. And given the fact that the repellent contains live bacteria that “settle” in the skin, scientists hope it can be effective for at least two weeks per application – even if users bathe regularly. In addition, it shouldn’t have any side effects.
“With the current repellants, you may have allergies or strong odors that feel strange on your skin,” said Nadia Parachin, program director for organism engineering at Ginkgo. “The idea of constructing the skin microbiome is precisely that it is as natural as possible. So it will be as if you have nothing on your skin.”
If you are dying to try the LBP yourself, you will have to wait a while. The ReVector program is a four-year project that requires mouse studies followed by human trials before a commercial repellent comes to market. However, the technology could ultimately be a game changer.
“A lot is known, there is still a lot to discover, and we’ll try to summarize that in this product,” says DeGennaro. “There will be live repellant production and live attractant removal, so I think it could potentially be amazing.”
Sources: Ginkgo Bioworks, DARPA