Insect population control by homing endonuclease-based gene drive: An evaluation in Drosophila melanogaster

Chan, YSN, D. A.; Huen, D. S.; Russell, S.,  Genetics,  188:33-44. 2011.

Insects play a major role as vectors of human disease as well as causing significant agricultural losses. Harnessing the activity of customized homing endonuclease genes (HEGs) has been proposed as a method for spreading deleterious mutations through populations with a view to controlling disease vectors. Here, we demonstrate the feasibility of this method in Drosophila melanogaster, utilizing the well-characterized HEG, I-SceI. In particular, we show that high rates of homing can be achieved within spermatogonia and in the female germline. We show that homed constructs continue to exhibit HEG activity in the subsequent generation and that the ectopic homing events required for initiating the strategy occur at an acceptable rate. We conclude that the requirements for successful deployment of a HEG-based gene drive strategy can be satisfied in a model dipteran and that there is a reasonable prospect of the method working in other dipterans. In characterizing the system we measured repair outcomes at the spermatogonial, spermatocyte, and spermatid stages of spermatogenesis. We show that homologous recombination is restricted to spermatogonia and that it immediately ceases when they become primary spermatocytes, indicating that the choice of DNA repair pathway in the Drosophila testis can switch abruptly during differentiation.