Designing gene drives to limit spillover to non-target populations

Gili Greenbaum, Marcus W. Feldman, Noah A. Rosenberg, Jaehee Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The prospect of utilizing CRISPR-based gene-drive technology for controlling populations has generated much excitement. However, the potential for spillovers of gene-drive alleles from the target population to non-target populations has raised concerns. Here, using mathematical models, we investigate the possibility of limiting spillovers to non-target populations by designing differential-targeting gene drives, in which the expected equilibrium gene-drive allele frequencies are high in the target population but low in the non-target population. We find that achieving differential targeting is possible with certain configurations of gene-drive parameters, but, in most cases, only under relatively low migration rates between populations. Under high migration, differential targeting is possible only in a narrow region of the parameter space. Because fixation of the gene drive in the non-target population could severely disrupt ecosystems, we outline possible ways to avoid this outcome. We apply our model to two potential applications of gene drives—field trials for malaria-vector gene drives and control of invasive species on islands. We discuss theoretical predictions of key requirements for differential targeting and their practical implications.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere1009278
JournalPLoS Genetics
Issue number2 February
StatePublished - 25 Feb 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cancer Research


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