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

N. O. Rode, V. Courtier-Orgogozo and F. Débarre,  bioRxiv,  2020.03.17.995829. 2020.

CRISPR-based homing gene drive is a genetic control technique aiming to modify or eradicate natural populations through the release of individuals carrying an engineered piece of DNA that can be inherited by all their 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 suggests 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 issues.Article summary for Issue Highlights Homing gene drive is a new genetic control technology that aims to spread a genetically engineered DNA construct within natural populations even when it impairs fitness. In case of unanticipated damages, it has been proposed to stop homing gene drives by releasing individuals carrying a gene-drive brake; however, the efficiency of such brakes has been little studied. The authors develop a model to investigate the dynamics of a population targeted by a homing drive in absence or in presence of brake. The model provides insights for the design of more efficient brakes and safer gene drives.CRISPRClustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats