After an initial project using Drosophila as a model to understand how gene drive could be built using TALEN as nuclease platform, I am, with other members of the team, currently working in developing and optimizing functional gene drives in Anopheles gambiae, the main vector of human malaria. We are using several nuclease platforms, from conventional homing endonuclease genes (HEGs), to TALENs and the more recent CRISPR/Cas9 (clustered random interspaced short palindromic repeats). Gene drives are types of selfish DNA element that have evolved to enhance their own transmission relative to the rest of the genome and therefore are inherited among a disproportionately high proportion of offspring.
A gene drive can be used to modify a target population in a way that such genetic modifications can for instance compromise the reproductive capacity of a vector population in order to reduce the population size to levels that do not support transmission of disease, and potentially to eradication. A gene drive may be able to spread despite negative fitness effects, and can therefore introduce pathogen resistance or a population suppressor which would otherwise be rapidly removed.
Gene drive-based vector control can provide an effective, long-term, sustainable solution to the invasion and control of pest species and disease vectors.
Our team is part of the Target Malaria project.