Converting endogenous genes of the malaria mosquito into simple non-autonomous gene drives for population replacement

A. Hoermann, S. Tapanelli, P. Capriotti, G. Del Corsano, E. K. G. Masters, T. Habtewold, G. K. Christophides and N. Windbichler,  eLife,  10. 2021.

Gene drives for mosquito population replacement are promising tools for malaria control. However, there is currently no clear pathway for safely testing such tools in endemic countries. The lack of well-characterized promoters for infection-relevant tissues and regulatory hurdles are further obstacles for their design and use. Here we explore how minimal genetic modifications of endogenous mosquito genes can convert them directly into non-autonomous gene drives without disrupting their expression. We co-opted the native regulatory sequences of three midgut-specific loci of the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae to host a prototypical antimalarial molecule and guide-RNAs encoded within artificial introns that support efficient gene drive. We assess the propensity of these modifications to interfere with the development of Plasmodium falciparum and their effect on fitness. Because of their inherent simplicity and passive mode of drive such traits could form part of an acceptable testing pathway of gene drives for malaria eradication.

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