Progress towards engineering gene drives for population control

R. R. Raban, J. M. Marshall and O. S. Akbari,  The Journal of Experimental Biology,  223:jeb208181. 2020.

Vector-borne diseases, such as dengue, Zika and malaria, are a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. These diseases have proven difficult to control and currently available management tools are insufficient to eliminate them in many regions. Gene drives have the potential to revolutionize vector-borne disease control. This suite of technologies has advanced rapidly in recent years as a result of the availability of new, more efficient gene editing technologies. Gene drives can favorably bias the inheritance of a linked disease-refractory gene, which could possibly be exploited (i) to generate a vector population incapable of transmitting disease or (ii) to disrupt an essential gene for viability or fertility, which could eventually eliminate a population. Importantly, gene drives vary in characteristics such as their transmission efficiency, confinability and reversibility, and their potential to develop resistance to the drive mechanism. Here, we discuss recent advancements in the gene drive field, and contrast the benefits and limitations of a variety of technologies, as well as approaches to overcome these limitations. We also discuss the current state of each gene drive technology and the technical considerations that need to be addressed on the pathway to field implementation. While there are still many obstacles to overcome, recent progress has brought us closer than ever before to genetic-based vector modification as a tool to support vector-borne disease elimination efforts worldwide.