Weakly deleterious natural genetic variation amplifies probability of resistance in multiplexed gene drive systems

B. S. Khatri and A. Burt,  bioRxiv,  2021.12.23.473701. 2021.

Evolution of resistance is a major barrier to successful deployment of gene drive systems to suppress natural populations. Multiplexed guide RNAs that require resistance mutations in all target cut sites is a promising strategy to overcome resistance. Using novel stochastic simulations that accurately model evolution at very large population sizes, we explore the probability of resistance due to three important mechanisms: 1) non-homologous end-joining mutations, 2) single nucleotide mutants arising de novo or, 3) single nucleotide polymorphisms pre-existing as standing variation. If the fraction of functional end-joining mutants is rare, we show that standing variation dominates, via a qualitatively new phenomenon where weakly deleterious variants significantly amplify the probability of multi-site resistance. This means resistance can be probable even with many target sites in not very large populations. This result has broad application to resistance arising in multi-site evolutionary scenarios including the evolution of vaccine escape mutations in large populations.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.

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