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.
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