Analysis of off-target effects in CRISPR-based gene drives in the human malaria mosquito

W. T. Garrood, N. Kranjc, K. Petri, D. Y. Kim, J. A. Guo, A. M. Hammond, I. Morianou, V. Pattanayak, J. K. Joung, A. Crisanti and A. Simoni,  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,  118:e2004838117. 2021.

CRISPR-Cas9 nuclease-based gene drives have been developed toward the aim of control of the human malaria vector Anopheles gambiae. Gene drives are based on an active source of Cas9 nuclease in the germline that promotes super-Mendelian inheritance of the transgene by homology-directed repair (“homing”). Understanding whether CRISPR-induced off-target mutations are generated in Anopheles mosquitoes is an important aspect of risk assessment before any potential field release of this technology. We compared the frequencies and the propensity of off-target events to occur in four different gene-drive strains, including a deliberately promiscuous set-up, using a nongermline restricted promoter for SpCas9 and a guide RNA with many closely related sites (two or more mismatches) across the mosquito genome. Under this scenario we observed off-target mutations at frequencies no greater than 1.42%. We witnessed no evidence that CRISPR-induced off-target mutations were able to accumulate (or drive) in a mosquito population, despite multiple generations’ exposure to the CRISPR-Cas9 nuclease construct. Furthermore, judicious design of the guide RNA used for homing of the CRISPR construct, combined with tight temporal constriction of Cas9 expression to the germline, rendered off-target mutations undetectable. The findings of this study represent an important milestone for the understanding and managing of CRISPR-Cas9 specificity in mosquitoes, and demonstrates that CRISPR off-target editing in the context of a mosquito gene drive can be reduced to minimal levels.All raw amplicon sequencing files have been deposited in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) BioProject (accession code PRJNA665154).

More related to this:

A synthetic homing endonuclease-based gene drive system in the human malaria mosquito

Questions, Answers & Resources