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Proc Biol Sci. May 7, 2003; 270(1518): 921–928.
PMCID: PMC1691325

Site-specific selfish genes as tools for the control and genetic engineering of natural populations.

Abstract

Site-specific selfish genes exploit host functions to copy themselves into a defined target DNA sequence, and include homing endonuclease genes, group II introns and some LINE-like transposable elements. If such genes can be engineered to target new host sequences, then they can be used to manipulate natural populations, even if the number of individuals released is a small fraction of the entire population. For example, a genetic load sufficient to eradicate a population can be imposed in fewer than 20 generations, if the target is an essential host gene, the knockout is recessive and the selfish gene has an appropriate promoter. There will be selection for resistance, but several strategies are available for reducing the likelihood of it evolving. These genes may also be used to genetically engineer natural populations, by means of population-wide gene knockouts, gene replacements and genetic transformations. By targeting sex-linked loci just prior to meiosis one may skew the population sex ratio, and by changing the promoter one may limit the spread of the gene to neighbouring populations. The proposed constructs are evolutionarily stable in the face of the mutations most likely to arise during their spread, and strategies are also available for reversing the manipulations.

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Selected References

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