A synthetic maternal-effect selfish genetic element drives population replacement in Drosophila

Chen, CHH, H. X.; Ward, C. M.; Su, J. T.; Schaeffer, L. V.; Guo, M.; Hay, B. A.,  Science,  316:597-600. 2007.

One proposed strategy for controlling the transmission of insect-borne pathogens uses a drive mechanism to ensure the rapid spread of transgenes conferring disease refractoriness throughout wild populations. Here, we report the creation of maternal-effect selfish genetic elements in Drosophila that drive population replacement and are resistant to recombination-mediated dissociation of drive and disease refractoriness functions. These selfish elements use microRNA-mediated silencing of a maternally expressed gene essential for embryogenesis, which is coupled with early zygotic expression of a rescuing transgene.

Our data show de novo synthesis of a selfish genetic element able to drive itself into a population. This laboratory demonstration notwithstanding, several obstacles remain to the implementation of Medea-based population replacement in the wild. First, for pests such as mosquito species, there is little genetic or molecular information regarding genes and promoters used during oogenesis and early embryogenesis. This information is straightforward to generate, with the use of transcriptional profiling to identify appropriately expressed genes and transgenesis and RNA interference in adult
females to identify those required for embryonic development, but it remains to be acquired.

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