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MGDrivE: A modular simulation framework for the spread of gene drives through spatially explicit mosquito populations

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Malaria, dengue, Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases continue to pose a major global health burden through much of the world, despite the widespread distribution of insecticide-based tools and antimalarial drugs. The advent of CRISPR/Cas9-based gene editing and its demonstrated ability to streamline the development of gene drive systems has reignited interest in the application of this technology to the control of mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit. The versatility of this technology has enabled a wide range of gene drive architectures to be realized, creating a need for their population-level and spatial dynamics to be explored. We present MGDrivE (Mosquito Gene Drive Explorer): a simulation framework designed to investigate the population dynamics of a variety of gene drive architectures and their spread through spatially explicit mosquito populations. A key strength of the MGDrivE framework is its modularity: (a) a genetic inheritance module accommodates the dynamics of gene drive systems displaying user-defined inheritance patterns, (b) a population dynamic module accommodates the life history of a variety of mosquito disease vectors and insect agricultural pests, and (c) a landscape module generates the metapopulation model by which insect populations are connected via migration over space. Example MGDrivE simulations are presented to demonstrate the application of the framework to CRISPR/Cas9-based homing gene drive for: (a) driving a disease-refractory gene into a population (i.e. population replacement), and (b) disrupting a gene required for female fertility (i.e. population suppression), incorporating homing-resistant alleles in both cases. Further documentation and use examples are provided at the project's Github repository. MGDrivE is an open-source r package freely available on CRAN. We intend the package to provide a flexible tool capable of modelling novel inheritance-modifying constructs as they are proposed and become available. The field of gene drive is moving very quickly, and we welcome suggestions for future development.

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