The creation and selection of mutations resistant to a gene drive over multiple generations in the malaria mosquito

Hammond, AMK, Kyros; Bruttini, Marco; North, Ace; Galizi, Roberto; Karlsson, Xenia; Kranjc, Nace; Carpi, Francesco M.; D’Aurizio, Romina; Crisanti, Andrea; Nolan, Tony,  PLOS Genetics,  13:e1007039. 2017.

Gene drives are selfish genetic elements that are able to bias their own inheritance among offspring. Starting from very low frequencies they can rapidly invade a population in just a few generations, even when imposing a fitness cost. Gene drives based on the precise DNA cutting enzyme CRISPR have been shown recently to be highly efficient at copying themselves from one chromosome to the other during the process of gamete formation in mosquitoes, resulting in transmission to 99% of offspring instead of the 50% expected for a single gene copy. One proposed use for CRISPR-based gene drives is in the control of mosquitoes by designing the gene drive to target mosquito genes involved in fertility, thereby reducing their overall reproductive output and leading to population suppression. Like any intervention designed to suppress a population these gene drives are expected to select for mutations in the mosquito that are resistant to the drive and restore fertility to mosquitoes. We have analyzed the origin and selection of resistant alleles in caged populations of mosquitoes initiated with a gene drive construct targeting a female fertility gene. We find the selected alleles are in-frame insertions and deletions that are resistant to cleavage and restore female fertility. Our findings allow us to improve predictions on gene drive behaviour and to make concrete recommendations on how to improve future gene drive designs by decreasing the likelihood that they generate resistance.