The effect of mating complexity on gene drive dynamics

P. Verma, R. G. Reeves, S. Simon, M. Otto and C. S. Gokhale,  The American Naturalist,  2022.

Gene drive technology promises to deliver on some of the global challenges humanity faces today in health care, agriculture, and conservation. However, there is a limited understanding of the consequences of releasing self-perpetuating transgenic organisms into 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 modeling outcome. First, we demonstrate that distortion-based gene drives appear to be more robust against 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 a 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 when modeling 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 about the origin and evolution of natural gene drives.

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