Engineering multiple species-like genetic incompatibilities in insects

M. Maselko, N. Feltman, A. Upadhyay, A. Hayward, S. Das, N. Myslicki, A. J. Peterson, M. B. O’Connor and M. J. Smanski,  Nature Communications,  11:4468. 2020.

Speciation constrains the flow of genetic information between populations of sexually reproducing organisms. Gaining control over mechanisms of speciation would enable new strategies to manage wild populations of disease vectors, agricultural pests, and invasive species. Additionally, such control would provide safe biocontainment of transgenes and gene drives. Here, we demonstrate a general approach to create engineered genetic incompatibilities (EGIs) in the model insect Drosophila melanogaster. EGI couples a dominant lethal transgene with a recessive resistance allele. Strains homozygous for both elements are fertile and fecund when they mate with similarly engineered strains, but incompatible with wild-type strains that lack resistant alleles. EGI genotypes can also be tuned to cause hybrid lethality at different developmental life-stages. Further, we demonstrate that multiple orthogonal EGI strains of D. melanogaster can be engineered to be mutually incompatible with wild-type and with each other. EGI is a simple and robust approach in multiple sexually reproducing organisms.

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