Selfish DNA as method of pest control

Hastings, IM,  Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences,  344:313-324. 1994.

The inheritance of most genes is tightly controlled, governed by the rules of mendelian inheritance if nuclear or uniparental inheritance if cytoplasmic. A few notable genes and cytoplasmic genomes have escaped this regulation. Such genes may spread by increasing their own rate of transmission despite reducing host fitness and may be regarded as ‘selfish’. Their population genetics are described and it appears they may impose a significant genetic load on the host population. Modern molecular techniques may enable similar loads to be imposed on pest species either by transferring selfish genes between species, or by linking deleterious genes to a selfish locus. Alternatively, ‘modifier’ genes that eliminate the virulent, or disease vectorial capacity, of the pest population may be introduced by linkage to a selfish locus. Selfish elements present in multiple copies may be preferable to single-copy elements as the former are capable of a larger reduction in host fitness. The practical application of these agents depends on five factors: (i) the rate of ‘reversion’ to a non-selfish form; (ii) the evolution of host repressor systems; (iii) their effect on host fitness, which determines their rate of invasion; (iv) the mechanism regulating host population size in the field; and (v) their ease of manipulation in the laboratory. The first two factors are the most uncertain in most systems, but should be amenable to experimental analysis. It is proposed that the development of such techniques may result in powerful new methods of population control which may be applied to both agricultural pests and disease vectors.