Simulations Reveal High Efficiency and Confinement of a Population Suppression CRISPR Toxin-Antidote Gene Drive

Y. Zhu and J. Champer,  ACS Synthetic Biolog,  2023.

Though engineered gene drives hold great promise for spreading through and suppressing populations of disease vectors or invasive species, complications such as resistance alleles and spatial population structure can prevent their success. Additionally, most forms of suppression drives, such as homing drives or driving Y chromosomes, will generally spread uncontrollably between populations with even small levels of migration. The previously proposed CRISPR-based toxin-antidote system called toxin-antidote dominant embryo (TADE) suppression drive could potentially address the issues of confinement and resistance. However, it is a relatively weak form of drive compared to homing drives, which might make it particularly vulnerable to spatial population structure. In this study, we investigate TADE suppression drive using individual-based simulations in a continuous spatial landscape. We find that the drive is actually more confined than in simple models without space, even in its most efficient form with low cleavage rate in embryos from maternally deposited Cas9. Furthermore, the drive performed well in continuous space scenarios if the initial release requirements were met, suppressing the population in a timely manner without being severely affected by chasing, a phenomenon in which wild-type individuals avoid the drive by recolonizing empty areas. At higher embryo cut rates, the drive loses its ability to spread, but a single, widespread release can often still induce rapid population collapse. Thus, if TADE suppression gene drives can be successfully constructed, they may play an important role in control of disease vectors and invasive species when stringent confinement to target populations is desired.

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