Assessment of a Split Homing Based Gene Drive for Efficient Knockout of Multiple Genes

N. P. Kandul, J. Liu, A. Buchman, V. M. Gantz, E. Bier and O. S. Akbari,  G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics,  10:827-837. 2019.

Homing based gene drives (HGD) possess the potential to spread linked cargo genes into natural populations and are poised to revolutionize population control of animals. Given that host encoded genes have been identified that are important for pathogen transmission, targeting these genes using guide RNAs as cargo genes linked to drives may provide a robust method to prevent disease transmission. However, effectiveness of the inclusion of additional guide RNAs that target separate genes has not been thoroughly explored. To test this approach, we generated a split-HGD in Drosophila melanogaster that encoded a drive linked effector consisting of a second gRNA engineered to target a separate host-encoded gene, which we term a gRNA-mediated effector (GME). This design enabled us to assess homing and knockout efficiencies of two target genes simultaneously, and also explore the timing and tissue specificity of Cas9 expression on cleavage/homing rates. We demonstrate that inclusion of a GME can result in high efficiency of disruption of both genes during super-Mendelian propagation of split-HGD. Furthermore, both genes were knocked out one generation earlier than expected indicating the robust somatic expression of Cas9 driven by Drosophila germline-limited promoters. We also assess the efficiency of shadow drive generated by maternally deposited Cas9 protein and accumulation of drive-induced resistance alleles along multiple generations, and discuss design principles of HGD that could mitigate the accumulation of resistance alleles while incorporating a GME.