Can a population targeted by a CRISPR-based homing gene drive be rescued?

N. O. Rode, V. Courtier-Orgogozo and F. Débarre,  G3-Genes Genomes Genetics,  2020.

CRISPR-based homing gene drive is a genetic control technique aiming to modify or eradicate natural populations. This technique is based on the release of individuals carrying an engineered piece of DNA that can be preferentially inherited by the progeny. Developing countermeasures is important to control the spread of gene drives, should they result in unanticipated damages. One proposed countermeasure is the introduction of individuals carrying a brake construct that targets and inactivates the drive allele but leaves the wild-type allele unaffected. Here we develop models to investigate the efficiency of such brakes. We consider a variable population size and use a combination of analytical and numerical methods to determine the conditions where a brake can prevent the extinction of a population targeted by an eradication drive. We find that a brake is not guaranteed to prevent eradication and that characteristics of both the brake and the drive affect the likelihood of recovering the wild-type population. In particular, brakes that restore fitness are more efficient than brakes that do not. Our model also indicates that threshold-dependent drives (drives that can spread only when introduced above a threshold) are more amenable to control with a brake than drives that can spread from an arbitrary low introduction frequency (threshold-independent drives). Based on our results, we provide practical recommendations and discuss safety.


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