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.
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© 2021 Greenbaum et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.