DEET may be an effective mosquito repellent, but it can cause irritation, and has to be reapplied every few hours. Scientists are now working on a more innocuous, longer-laster alternative, that involves introducing genetically engineered bacteria to people’s skin.
The “Live Biotherapeutic Product” (LBP) repellent is being developed as part of the ReVector Program, which is spearheaded by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Conducting the actual research are project partners from 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 altering the human skin microbiome, which is the diverse community of microbes living on everyone’s skin. These microbes produce odors, which the scientists state are one of the key factors that draw in blood-feeding female mosquitoes.
“The idea is that we would make a topical that would contain [engineered] microbes,” FIU’s Dr. Matthew DeGennaro tells us. “It would alter our odor profile … There are some core odors that are attractive to mosquitoes, that most humans present. We’re going to be masking those.”