Assessment of a split homing based gene drive for efficient knockout of multiple genes

Kandul, N. P., J. Liu, A. Buchman, V. M. Gantz, E. Bier and O. S. Akbari,  bioRxiv,  2019:706929. 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 transmission. However, effectiveness of the inclusion of additional guide RNAs that target separate host encoded genes has not been thoroughly explored. To test this approach, here 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 its target gene during super-Mendelian propagation of split-HGD. However, maternal deposition and embryonic expression of Cas9 resulted in the generation of drive resistant alleles which can accumulate and limit the spread of such a drive. Alternative design principles are discussed that could mitigate the accumulation of resistance alleles while incorporating a GME.