Genetic and geographic population structure in the malaria vector, Anopheles farauti, provides a candidate system for pioneering confinable gene-drive releases

Ambrose, L., Allen, S.L., Iro’ofa, C. et al.,  Heredity,  2024.

Indoor insecticide applications are the primary tool for reducing malaria transmission in the Solomon Archipelago, a region where Anopheles farauti is the only common malaria vector. Due to the evolution of behavioural resistance in some Anfarauti populations, these applications have become less effective. New malaria control interventions are therefore needed in this region, and gene-drives provide a promising new technology. In considering developing a population-specific (local) gene-drive in An. farauti, we detail the species’ population genetic structure using microsatellites and whole mitogenomes, finding many spatially confined populations both within and between landmasses. This strong population structure suggests that An. farauti would be a useful system for developing a population-specific, confinable gene-drive for field release, where private alleles can be used as Cas9 targets. Previous work on Anopheles gambiae has used the Cardinal gene for the development of a global population replacement gene-drive. We therefore also analyse the Cardinal gene to assess whether it may be a suitable target to engineer a gene-drive for the modification of local An. farauti populations. Despite the extensive population structure observed in An. farauti for microsatellites, only one remote island population from Vanuatu contained fixed and private alleles at the Cardinal locus. Nonetheless, this study provides an initial framework for further population genomic investigations to discover high-frequency private allele targets in localized An. farauti populations. This would enable the development of gene-drive strains for modifying localised populations with minimal chance of escape and may provide a low-risk route to field trial evaluations.

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