A synthetic gene drive system for local, reversible modification and suppression of insect populations

Curr Biol. 2013 Apr 22;23(8):671-7. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.02.059. Epub 2013 Mar 28.


Replacement of wild insect populations with genetically modified individuals unable to transmit disease provides a self-perpetuating method of disease prevention but requires a gene drive mechanism to spread these traits to high frequency. Drive mechanisms requiring that transgenes exceed a threshold frequency in order to spread are attractive because they bring about local but not global replacement, and transgenes can be eliminated through dilution of the population with wild-type individuals. These features are likely to be important in many social and regulatory contexts. Here we describe the first creation of a synthetic threshold-dependent gene drive system, designated maternal-effect lethal underdominance (UD(MEL)), in which two maternally expressed toxins, located on separate chromosomes, are each linked with a zygotic antidote able to rescue maternal-effect lethality of the other toxin. We demonstrate threshold-dependent replacement in single- and two-locus configurations in Drosophila. Models suggest that transgene spread can often be limited to local environments. They also show that in a population in which single-locus UD(MEL) has been carried out, repeated release of wild-type males can result in population suppression, a novel method of genetic population manipulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified / genetics
  • Animals, Genetically Modified / physiology
  • Antidotes / metabolism
  • Chromosomes
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology
  • Female
  • Genes, Insect*
  • Genes, Synthetic*
  • Genetic Fitness
  • Genetic Linkage
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic
  • Population Dynamics
  • Toxins, Biological / genetics
  • Toxins, Biological / metabolism
  • Transgenes*


  • Antidotes
  • Toxins, Biological