Gene drives are selfish genetic elements that are transmitted to progeny at super-Mendelian (>50%) frequencies.
Recently developed CRISPR–Cas9-based gene-drive systems are highly efficient in laboratory settings, offering the potential to reduce the prevalence of vector-borne diseases, crop pests and non-native invasive species.
However, concerns have been raised regarding the potential unintended impacts of gene-drive systems.
This Review summarizes the phenomenal progress in this field, focusing on optimal design features for full-drive elements (drives with linked Cas9 and guide RNA components) that either suppress target mosquito populations or modify them to prevent pathogen transmission, allelic drives for updating genetic elements, mitigating strategies including trans-complementing split-drives and genetic neutralizing elements, and the adaptation of drive technology to other organisms.
These scientific advances, combined with ethical and social considerations, will facilitate the transparent and responsible advancement of these technologies towards field implementation.