The effect of mating complexity on gene drive dynamics

P. Verma, R. G. Reeves, S. Simon, M. Otto and C. S. Gokhale,  bioRxiv,  2021.09.16.460618. 2022.

Gene drive technology promises to deliver on some of the global challenges humanity faces today in healthcare, agriculture and conservation. However, there is a limited understanding of the consequences of releasing self-perpetuating transgenic organisms into the wild populations under complex ecological conditions. In this study, we analyze the impact of three such complexities, mate-choice, mating systems and spatial mating network, on the population dynamics for two distinct classes of modification gene drive systems. All three factors had a high impact on the modelling outcome. First, we demonstrate that distortion based gene drives appear to be more robust against the mate-choice than viability-based gene drives. Second, we find that gene drive spread is much faster for higher degrees of polygamy. Including a fitness cost, the drive is fastest for intermediate levels of polygamy. Finally, the spread of gene drive is faster and more effective when the individuals have fewer connections in a spatial mating network. Our results highlight the need to include mating complexities while modelling the properties of gene drives such as release thresholds, timescales and population-level consequences. This inclusion will enable a more confident prediction of the dynamics of engineered gene drives and possibly even inform on the origin and evolution of natural gene drives.

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