CRISPR gene-drive systems based on Cas9 nickases promote super-Mendelian inheritance in Drosophila

V. Lopez del Amo, S. Sanz Juste and V. M. Gantz,  bioRxiv,  2021.12.01.470847. 2021.

CRISPR-based gene drive systems can be used to modify entire wild populations due to their ability to bias their own inheritance towards super-Mendelian rates (100%). Current gene drives contain a Cas9 and a gRNA gene inserted at the location targeted by the gRNA. These gene products are able to cut the opposing wildtype allele, and lead to its replacement with a copy of the gene drive through the homology-directed DNA repair pathway. When this allelic conversion occurs in the germline it leads to the preferential inheritance of the engineered allele; a property that has been proposed to disseminate engineered traits for managing disease-transmitting mosquito populations. Here, we report a novel gene-drive strategy relying on Cas9 nickases which operates by generating staggered paired-nicks in the DNA to promote propagation of the gene drive allele. We show that only when 5′ overhangs are generated, the system efficiently leads to allelic conversion. Further, the nickase gene-drive arrangement produces large stereotyped deletions, providing potential advantages for targeting essential genes. Indeed, the nickase-gene-drive design should expand the options available for gene drive designs aimed at applications in mosquitoes and beyond.

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