Resistance to a CRISPR-based gene drive at an evolutionarily conserved site is revealed by mimicking genotype fixation

S. Fuchs, W. T. Garrood, A. Beber, A. Hammond, R. Galizi, M. Gribble, G. Morselli, T.-Y. J. Hui, K. Willis, N. Kranjc, A. Burt, A. Crisanti and T. Nolan,  PLOS Genetics,  17. 2021.

Author summary Gene drives have the potential to be applied as a novel control strategy of disease-transmitting mosquitoes, by spreading genetic traits that suppress or modify the target population. Many gene drive elements work by recognising and cutting a specific target sequence in the mosquito genome and copying themselves into that target sequence allowing the gene drive to increase in frequency in the population. Like other mosquito control interventions, efficacy will greatly depend on minimising the development of resistance to the gene drive mechanism—most likely via a change in the target sequence that prevents further cutting. One strategy to reduce resistance is to target sequences that are highly conserved, which implies that changes cannot easily be tolerated. We developed a strategy that simulates high selection pressure, under which resistance is most likely to emerge, and therefore provides a stringent test of its propensity to arise. Unlike previous results with another gene drive, we recovered a resistant allele within a few generations of gene drive exposure and at high frequency. Our results show that conserved sequences can vary hugely in ability to tolerate mutations and highlights the need to functionally validate future candidate gene drive target sites for their robustness to resistance.


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