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Population management using gene drive: molecular design, spread dynamics modelling and assessment of ecological risks

Nicolas O. Rode; Arnaud Estoup; Denis Bourguet; Virginie Courtier-Orgogozo; Florence Débarre

CRISPR gene drive has recently been proposed as a promising technology for population management, including in conservation genetics. The technique would consist in releasing genetically engineered individuals that are designed to rapidly propagate a desired mutation or transgene into wild populations. Potential applications in conservation biology include the control of invasive pest populations that threaten biodiversity (eradication and suppression drives), or the introduction of beneficial mutations in endangered populations (rescue drives). The propagation of a gene drive is affected by different factors that depend on the drive construct (e.g. its fitness effect and timing of expression) or on the target species (e.g. its mating system and population structure). We review potential applications of the different types of gene drives for conservation. We examine the challenges posed by the evolution of resistance to gene drives and review the various molecular and environmental risks associated with gene drives (e.g. propagation to non-target populations or species and unintended detrimental ecosystem impacts). We provide some guidelines for future gene drive research and discuss ethical, biosafety and regulation issues.

Funding for this project was provided by the CeMEB LabEx/University of Montpellier to NOR, ANR-14-ACHN-0003 to FD, INRA to AE and DB, INRA-SPE (SUZUCTICID project) to NOR and AE and European Research Council (FP7/2007-2013 Grant Agreement no. 337579) to VCO.
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