Gene drive escape from resistance depends on mechanism and ecology

F. Cook, J. J. Bull and R. Gomulkiewicz,  bioRxiv,  2021.08.30.458221. 2021.

Gene drives can potentially be used to suppress pest populations, and the advent of CRISPR technology has made it feasible to engineer them in many species, especially insects. What remains largely unknown for implementations is whether anti-drive resistance will evolve to block the population suppression. An especially serious threat to some kinds of drive is mutations in the CRISPR cleavage sequence that block the action of CRISPR, but designs have been proposed to avoid this type of resistance. Various types of resistance at loci away from the cleavage site remain a possibility, which is the focus here. It is known that modest-effect suppression drives can essentially `outrun' unlinked resistance even when that resistance is present from the start. We demonstrate here how the risk of evolving (unlinked) resistance can be further reduced without compromising overall suppression by introducing multiple suppression drives or by designing drives with specific ecological effects. However, we show that even modest-effect suppression drives remain vulnerable to the evolution of extreme levels of inbreeding, which halt the spread of the drive without actually interfering with its mechanism. The landscape of resistance evolution against suppression drives is therefore complex, but avenues exist for enhancing gene drive success.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.

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