Design and analysis of CRISPR-based underdominance toxin-antidote gene drives

Champer, J., S. E. Champer, I. Kim, A. G. Clark and P. W. Messer,  bioRxiv,  861435:861435. 2019.

CRISPR gene drive systems offer a mechanism for transmitting a desirable transgene throughout a population for purposes ranging from vector-borne disease control to invasive species suppression. In this simulation study, we model and assess the performance of several CRISPR-based underdominance gene drive constructs employing toxin-antidote principles. These drives disrupt the wild-type version of an essential gene using a CRISPR nuclease (the toxin) while simultaneously carrying a recoded version of the gene (the antidote). Drives of this nature allow for releases that could be potentially confined to a desired geographic location. This is because such drives have a nonzero invasion threshold frequency, referring to the critical frequency required for the drive to spread through the population. We model drives which target essential genes that are either haplosufficient or haplolethal, using nuclease promoters with expression restricted to the germline, promoters that additionally result in cleavage activity in the early embryo from maternal deposition, and promoters that have ubiquitous somatic expression. We also study several possible drive architectures, considering both “same-site” and “distant-site” systems, as well as several reciprocally targeting drives. Together, these drive variants provide a wide range of invasion threshold frequencies and options for both population modification and suppression. Our results suggest that CRISPR toxin-antidote underdominance drive systems could allow for the design of highly flexible and potentially confinable gene drive strategies.