Assessing single-locus CRISPR/Cas9-based gene drive variants in the mosquito Aedes aegypti via single generation crosses and modeling

W. Reid, A. E. Williams, I. Sanchez-Vargas, J. Lin, R. Juncu, K. E. Olson and A. W. E. Franz,  G3 Genes|Genomes|Genetics,  2022.

The yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti is a major vector of arthropod-borne viruses, including dengue, chikungunya, and Zika. A novel approach to mitigate arboviral infections is to generate mosquitoes refractory to infection by overexpressing antiviral effector molecules. Such an approach requires a mechanism to spread these antiviral effectors through a population, for example, by using CRISPR/Cas9-based gene drive (GD) systems. Critical to the design of a single-locus autonomous GD is that the selected genomic locus is amenable to both GD and appropriate expression of the antiviral effector. In our study, we used reverse engineering to target two intergenic genomic loci, which had previously shown to be highly permissive for antiviral effector gene expression, and we further investigated the use of three promoters (nanos, β2-tubulin, or zpg) for Cas9 expression. We then quantified the accrual of insertions or deletions (indels) after single generation crossings, measured maternal effects, and assessed fitness costs associated with the various transgenic lines to model the rate of GD fixation. Overall, MGDrivE modeling suggested that when an autonomous GD is placed into an intergenic locus, the GD system will eventually be blocked by the accrual of GD blocking resistance alleles and ultimately be lost in the population. Moreover, while genomic locus and promoter selection were critically important for the initial establishment of the autonomous GD, it was the fitness of the GD line that most strongly influenced the persistence of the GD in the simulated population. As such, we propose that when autonomous CRISPR/Cas9 based GD systems are anchored in an intergenic locus, they temporarily result in a strong population replacement effect, but as GD-blocking indels accrue, the GD becomes exhausted due to the fixation of CRISPR resistance alleles.

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