Field Trials of Gene Drive Mosquitoes: Lessons from Releases of Genetically Sterile Males and Wolbachia-infected Mosquitoes

J. M. Marshall and V. N. Vásquez,  Genetically Modified and other Innovative Vector Control Technologies,  2021.

The discovery of CRISPR-based gene editing and its application to homing-based gene drive has been greeted with excitement, for its potential to control mosquito-borne diseases on a wide scale, and concern, for the invasiveness and potential irreversibility of a release. At the same time, CRISPR-based gene editing has enabled a range of self-limiting gene drive systems to be engineered with much greater ease, including (1) threshold-dependent systems, which tend to spread only when introduced above a certain threshold population frequency, and (2) temporally self-limiting systems, which display transient drive activity before being eliminated by virtue of a fitness cost. As these CRISPR-based gene drive systems are yet to be field-tested, plenty of open questions remain to be addressed, and insights can be gained from precedents set by field trials of other novel genetics-based and biological control systems, such as trials of Wolbachia-transfected mosquitoes, intended for either population replacement or suppression, and trials of genetically sterile male mosquitoes, either using the RIDL system (release of insects carrying a dominant lethal gene) or irradiation. We discuss lessons learned from these field trials and implications for a phased exploration of gene drive technology, including homing-based gene drive, chromosomal translocations, and split gene drive as a system potentially suitable for an intermediate release.

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