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Current CRISPR gene drive systems are likely to be highly invasive in wild populations

By Charleston Noble, Ben Adlam, George M Church, Kevin M Esvelt, Martin A Nowak

Posted 16 Nov 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/219022 (published DOI: 10.7554/elife.33423)

Recent reports have suggested that CRISPR-based gene drives are unlikely to invade wild populations due to drive-resistant alleles that prevent cutting. Here we develop mathematical models based on existing empirical data to explicitly test this assumption. We show that although resistance prevents drive systems from spreading to fixation in large populations, even the least effective systems reported to date are highly invasive. Releasing a small number of organisms often causes invasion of the local population, followed by invasion of additional populations connected by very low gene flow rates. Examining the effects of mitigating factors including standing variation, inbreeding, and family size revealed that none of these prevent invasion in realistic scenarios. Highly effective drive systems are predicted to be even more invasive. Contrary to the National Academies report on gene drive, our results suggest that standard drive systems should not be developed nor field-tested in regions harboring the host organism.

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