Studying the evolution of gene drive systems


How will gene drive systems evolve once released into the wild? Can they be reliably overwritten and blocked by immunizing reversal drives? Might they spread into related species? These are difficult questions because wild populations are so much larger than laboratory colonies, meaning critical evolutionary events would never be observed in the lab. We seek to develop nematode worms as a model system to help answer these questions. Nematodes are genetically tractable, reproduce twice each week, and are readily grown in populations numbering in the billions. This allows us to study drive systems intended for other organisms in nematodes. Synthetic site targeting, split drives, and ecological confinement will prevent spread into wild nematodes. Because nematodes are easy to culture and count using Foldscope microscopes, we intend to work with educators to enable students, museum-goers, and citizen scientists to participate in gene drive research.