Split versions of Cleave and Rescue selfish genetic elements for measured self limiting gene drive

G. Oberhofer, T. Ivy and B. A. Hay,  PLoS genetics,  17:e1009385. 2021.

Gene drive elements promote the spread of linked traits, providing methods for changing the composition or fate of wild populations. Drive mechanisms that are self-limiting are attractive because they allow control over the duration and extent of trait spread in time and space, and are reversible through natural selection as drive wanes. Self-sustaining Cleave and Rescue (ClvR) elements include a DNA sequence-modifying enzyme such as Cas9/gRNAs that disrupts endogenous versions of an essential gene, a tightly linked recoded version of the essential gene resistant to cleavage (the Rescue), and a Cargo. ClvR spreads by creating loss-of-function (LOF) conditions in which those without ClvR die because they lack functional copies of the essential gene. We use modeling to show that when the Rescue-Cargo and one or both components required for LOF allele creation (Cas9 and gRNA) reside at different locations (split ClvR), drive of Rescue-Cargo is self-limiting due to a progressive decrease in Cas9 frequency, and thus opportunities for creation of LOF alleles, as spread occurs. Importantly, drive strength and duration can be extended in a measured manner-which is still self-limiting-by moving the two components close enough to each other that they experience some degree of linkage. With linkage, Cas9 transiently experiences drive by hitchhiking with Rescue-Cargo until linkage disequilibrium between the two disappears, a function of recombination frequency and number of generations, creating a novel point of control. We implement split ClvR in Drosophila, with key elements on different chromosomes. Cargo/Rescue/gRNAs spreads to high frequency in a Cas9-dependent manner, while the frequency of Cas9 decreases. These observations show that measured, transient drive, coupled with a loss of future drive potential, can be achieved using the simple toolkit that make up ClvR elements-Cas9 and gRNAs and a Rescue/Cargo.

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