By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Spray ‘em, swat ‘em – those are just two of the most basic ways people have battled with mosquitoes through the years. But now a researcher at Florida International University is looking for an advanced way to ward off the insects.

“If we change the way we smell, then we can block them from finding us. We can repel them,” said Dr. Matthew DeGennaro, the director of FIU’s Laboratory of Tropical Genetics.

Using genetics, he figured out how a mosquito’s unique gene is responsible for the its keen sense of smell, which guides them right to human hosts.

“Some people are more attractive to mosquitoes than others and we are trying to figure out why,” he said. “We think the difference is in their skin microbes and the odors they produce.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded a contract for up to $15 million to scientists and researchers from Florida International University as well as three biotech, pharmaceutical, and dermatology companies to develop a product to protect the U.S. military from mosquito-borne diseases. The research will eventually benefit the civilian sector.

“We want it to last for two weeks, reduce odors, odors that attract mosquitoes, and produce repellent odors that will keep mosquitoes away,” DeGennaro said.

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The four-year project’s plan is to harness the microbes found on the human skin to create a live, easily applied bio-therapeutic product that can block human chemical signals that attract mosquitoes, while also repelling the insects.

“We are going to start our human study in spring. We are designing the microbe, moving forward on development,” DeGennaro said.

The FIU doctor said to continue to use DEET based repellents until the new product hits the market.