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,  bioRxiv,  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. Natural speciation can be driven by pre-zygotic barriers that prevent fertilization or by post-zygotic genetic incompatibilities that render the hybrid progeny inviable or sterile. Here we demonstrate a general approach to create engineered genetic incompatibilities (EGIs) in the model insect Drosophila melanogaster. Our system couples a dominant lethal transgene with a recessive resistance allele. EGI strains that are 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. We show that EGI genotypes can 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. Our approach to create EGI organisms is simple, robust, and functional in multiple sexually reproducing organisms.