CRISPR-based homing gene drives designed to disrupt essential genes whilst biasing their own inheritance can suppress mosquito populations in the laboratory. This class of gene drives relies on CRisPR-Cas9 cleavage of a target sequence.
CRISPR-based homing gene drives designed to disrupt essential genes whilst biasing their own inheritance can suppress mosquito populations in the laboratory. This class of gene drives relies on CRISPR-Cas9 cleavage of a target sequence and copying ( homing) therein of the gene drive element from the homologous chromosome. However, target site mutations that are resistant to cleavage yet maintain the function of the essential gene are expected to be strongly selected for. Targeting functionally constrained regions where mutations are not easily tolerated should lower the probability of resistance. Evolutionary conservation at the sequence level is usually a reliable indicator that there is functional constraint, though the actual level of underlying constraint between one conserved sequence and another can vary widely. Here we generated a novel gene drive in the malaria vector An. gambiae targeting an ultra-conserved target site in a haplosufficient essential gene (AGAP029113) required during mosquito development and which fulfils many of the criteria for the target of a population suppression gene drive. We then designed a selection regime to experimentally assess the likelihood of generation and subsequent selection of gene drive resistant mutations at its target site. We simulated, in a caged population, a scenario where the gene drive was approaching fixation, where selection for resistance is expected to be strongest. Continuous sampling of the target locus revealed that a single, restorative, in-frame nucleotide substitution was selected. Our findings show that ultra-conservation alone need not be predictive of a site that is refractory to target site resistance. Our strategy to evaluate resistance in vivo could help to validate candidate gene drive targets for their resilience to resistance and help to improve predictions of the invasion dynamics of gene drives in field populations.