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The Aedes albopictus, which can spread Zika, seen way too close. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Biotech companies are partnering with the U.S. military to engineer a better mosquito repellent.

Why it matters: More than 1 million people die each year from mosquito-borne diseases, and existing repellents are limited in their effectiveness. Using synthetic biology to design a superior sustainable repellent could help change that.

Driving the news: Ginkgo Bioworks announced on Thursday it had won a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to help engineer a skin-based microbiome mosquito repellent.

  • The contract is worth up to $15 million and includes partners from the medical dermatology company Azitra, Latham BioPharm Group and Florida International University.

How it works: DEET has been the gold standard for mosquito repellent since the 1940s, but it can cause skin irritation and degrade clothing and loses its effectiveness within hours.

  • Ginkgo and its partners will use high-throughput testing to discover engineered microbial compounds that can repel mosquitoes and mask the chemical volatiles released by human beings that naturally attract insects.
  • "The idea is to create a repellent that you don't have to reapply," says Nádia Parachin, program director of organism engineering at Ginkgo.

Context: The contract is part of the military's ReVector program, which aims to protect U.S. military against disease-causing insects.

  • The project also demonstrates the way Ginkgo — which synthesizes more DNA than any other company in the world — is working to become the AWS of synthetic biology, providing its microbe-engineering expertise and production capabilities as a service.
  • Just as the military can tap cloud computing services for its needs, "they can trust us to be their general purpose biology provider," says Zach Smith, director of government business at Ginkgo.

What to watch: Whether the final product is effective and safe, and whether it eventually makes its way to the hundreds of millions of people for whom a better mosquito repellent is a matter of life or death.

Go deeper... CDC: Illnesses from ticks and mosquitos tripled over 13 years

Go deeper

Updated 18 mins ago - World

German election: Social Democrats narrowly beat Angela Merkel's bloc

SPD leader Olaf Scholz. Photo: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg via Getty Images

BERLIN — The center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP) clinched a narrow victory in Germany's historic federal elections on Sunday, just four years after suffering its worst loss since World War II.

Why it matters: It's a stunning political comeback for the SPD, paving the way for its chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz to form a new governing coalition and lead Europe's largest economy into the post-Merkel era.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Liz Cheney: Americans deserve better than choice of Biden or Trump

Rep. Liz Cheney talks with Lesley Stahl on CBS' "60 Minutes." Photo: CBS News

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) told CBS' "60 Minutes" in an interview broadcast Sunday that Americans "deserve better than having to choose between" President Biden's "disastrous" policies and former President Trump, "who violated his oath of office."

Why it matters: Cheney made the remarks after CBS' Lesley Stahl put it to her in the interview that Republicans feel that her joining the House select committee in charge of investigating the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot helps "keep the focus on Trump instead of on the shortcomings of the Biden administration."

7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

First look: The LCV's $4M ad buy

A screenshot from a new League of Conservation Voters ad supporting Rep. Stephanie Murphy.

The League of Conservation Voters and Climate Power are aiming another $4 million worth of ads at centrist House Democrats, urging them to support the climate provisions in President Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Progressive groups are trying to counter the onslaught of conservative money pouring into swing districts. Both sides are trying to define Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda and pressure lawmakers to support — or oppose — the legislation scheduled for a vote in the House this week.

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