Regulating the expression of gene drives is key to increasing their invasive potential and the mitigation of resistance

A. Hammond, X. Karlsson, I. Morianou, K. Kyrou, A. Beaghton, M. Gribble, N. Kranjc, R. Galizi, A. Burt, A. Crisanti and T. Nolan,  PLOS Genetics,  17:e1009321. 2021.

Gene drives are selfish genetic elements that are able to drastically bias their own inheritance. They can rapidly invade populations, even starting from a very low frequency. Recent advances have allowed the engineering of gene drives deliberately designed to spread genetic traits of choice into populations of malaria-transmitting mosquito species–for example traits that impair a mosquito’s ability to reproduce or its ability to transmit parasites. The class of gene drive in question uses a very precise cutting and copying mechanism, termed ‘homing’, that allows it to increase its numbers in the cells that go on to form sperm or eggs, thereby increasing the chances that a copy of the gene drive is transmitted to offspring. However, while this type of gene drive can rapidly invade a mosquito population, mosquitoes can also eventually become resistant to the gene drive in some cases. Here we show that restricting the cutting activity of the gene drive to the germline tissue is crucial to maintaining its potency and we illustrate how failure to restrict this activity can lead to the generation of mutations that can make mosquitoes resistant to the gene drive.

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