Gene drive and resilience through renewal with next generation Cleave and Rescue selfish genetic elements

Oberhofer, G., T. Ivy and B. A. Hay,  bioRxiv,  2019:2019.2012.2013.876169. 2019.

Gene drive-based strategies for modifying populations face the problem that genes encoding cargo and the drive mechanism are subject to separation, mutational inactivation, and loss of efficacy. Resilience, an ability to respond to these eventualities in ways that restore population modification with functional genes is needed for long-term success. Here we show that resilience can be achieved through cycles of population modification with Cleave and Rescue (ClvR) selfish genetic elements. ClvR comprises a DNA sequence-modifying enzyme such as Cas9/gRNAs that disrupts endogenous versions of an essential gene, and a recoded version of the essential gene resistant to cleavage. ClvR spreads by creating conditions in which those lacking ClvR die because they lack functional versions of the essential gene. Cycles of modification can in principal be carried out if two ClvR elements targeting different essential genes are located at the same genomic position, and one of them, ClvRn+1, carries a Rescue transgene from an earlier element, ClvRn. ClvRn+1 should spread within a population of ClvRn, while also bringing about a decrease in its frequency. To test this hypothesis we first show that multiple ClvRs, each targeting a different essential gene, function when located at a common chromosomal position in Drosophila. We then show that when several of these also carry the Rescue from a different ClvR, they spread to transgene fixation in populations fixed for the latter, and at its expense. Therefore, genetic modifications of populations can be overwritten with new content, providing an ongoing point of control.