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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

MacKenzie Scott donates another $2.7 billion to 286 organizations

MacKenzie Scott with her former husband, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon. Photo by Greg Doherty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

MacKenzie Scott announced Tuesday that she and her husband, Dan Jewett, had donated $2.74 billion to 286 different organizations, including community-based nonprofits and organizations focused on racial justice.

Why it matters: It's the next phase of what the New York Times describes as a "highly unconventional approach" to philanthropy from one of the richest women in the world.

Heat wave enveloping West will shatter records, spark wildfires

The sun sets behind power lines in Rosemead, California on June 14, 2021, amid an early season heatwave across much of California this week. Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

A dangerous and widespread mid-June heat wave is bringing blowtorch-like heat, skyrocketing power demand, and “critical” wildfire danger to much of the West Tuesday through this weekend.

Why it matters: The heat is building in a region that is experiencing a record drought, leading to dangerous fire weather conditions, straining electrical grids, and causing water supplies to dwindle further. The heat itself may prove deadly.

Politico's top editor leaving for NBC

Screenshot: Youtube

Politico’s top editor Carrie Budoff Brown is joining NBC in a high-level executive position at the network that includes overseeing the "Meet the Press" franchise, sources familiar with the discussions tell Axios.

Why it matters: Budoff Brown has been with Politico since its earliest days in 2007 and is admired among newsroom staff. Her departure will be a major loss to the organization.

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