A Synthetic Gene Drive System for Local, Reversible Modification and Suppression of Insect Populations

Akbari, OSM, K. D.; Marshall, J. M.; Huang, H. X.; Ward, C. M.; Hay, B. A.,  Current Biology,  23:671-677. 2013.

Replacement of wild insect populations with genetically modified individuals unable to transmit disease provides a self-perpetuating method of disease prevention but requires a gene drive mechanism to spread these traits to high frequency [1-3]. Drive mechanisms requiring that transgenes exceed a threshold frequency in order to spread are attractive because they bring about local but not global replacement, and transgenes can be eliminated through dilution of the population with wild-type individuals [4-6]. These features are likely to be important in many social and regulatory contexts [7-10]. Here we describe the first creation of a synthetic threshold-dependent gene drive system, designated maternal-effect lethal underdominance (UDMEL), in which two maternally expressed toxins, located on separate chromosomes, are each linked with a zygotic antidote able to rescue maternal-effect lethality of the other toxin. We demonstrate threshold-dependent replacement in single- and two-locus configurations in Drosophila. Models suggest that transgene spread can often be limited to local environments. They also show that in a population in which single-locus UDMEL has been carried out, repeated release of wild-type males can result in population suppression, a novel method of genetic population manipulation.