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1.  Diverse CRISPRs Evolving in Human Microbiomes 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(6):e1002441.
CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) loci, together with cas (CRISPR–associated) genes, form the CRISPR/Cas adaptive immune system, a primary defense strategy that eubacteria and archaea mobilize against foreign nucleic acids, including phages and conjugative plasmids. Short spacer sequences separated by the repeats are derived from foreign DNA and direct interference to future infections. The availability of hundreds of shotgun metagenomic datasets from the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) enables us to explore the distribution and diversity of known CRISPRs in human-associated microbial communities and to discover new CRISPRs. We propose a targeted assembly strategy to reconstruct CRISPR arrays, which whole-metagenome assemblies fail to identify. For each known CRISPR type (identified from reference genomes), we use its direct repeat consensus sequence to recruit reads from each HMP dataset and then assemble the recruited reads into CRISPR loci; the unique spacer sequences can then be extracted for analysis. We also identified novel CRISPRs or new CRISPR variants in contigs from whole-metagenome assemblies and used targeted assembly to more comprehensively identify these CRISPRs across samples. We observed that the distributions of CRISPRs (including 64 known and 86 novel ones) are largely body-site specific. We provide detailed analysis of several CRISPR loci, including novel CRISPRs. For example, known streptococcal CRISPRs were identified in most oral microbiomes, totaling ∼8,000 unique spacers: samples resampled from the same individual and oral site shared the most spacers; different oral sites from the same individual shared significantly fewer, while different individuals had almost no common spacers, indicating the impact of subtle niche differences on the evolution of CRISPR defenses. We further demonstrate potential applications of CRISPRs to the tracing of rare species and the virus exposure of individuals. This work indicates the importance of effective identification and characterization of CRISPR loci to the study of the dynamic ecology of microbiomes.
Author Summary
Human bodies are complex ecological systems in which various microbial organisms and viruses interact with each other and with the human host. The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) has resulted in >700 datasets of shotgun metagenomic sequences, from which we can learn about the compositions and functions of human-associated microbial communities. CRISPR/Cas systems are a widespread class of adaptive immune systems in bacteria and archaea, providing acquired immunity against foreign nucleic acids: CRISPR/Cas defense pathways involve integration of viral- or plasmid-derived DNA segments into CRISPR arrays (forming spacers between repeated structural sequences), and expression of short crRNAs from these single repeat-spacer units, to generate interference to future invading foreign genomes. Powered by an effective computational approach (the targeted assembly approach for CRISPR), our analysis of CRISPR arrays in the HMP datasets provides the very first global view of bacterial immunity systems in human-associated microbial communities. The great diversity of CRISPR spacers we observed among different body sites, in different individuals, and in single individuals over time, indicates the impact of subtle niche differences on the evolution of CRISPR defenses and indicates the key role of bacteriophage (and plasmids) in shaping human microbial communities.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002441
PMCID: PMC3374615  PMID: 22719260
2.  Persisting Viral Sequences Shape Microbial CRISPR-based Immunity 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(4):e1002475.
Well-studied innate immune systems exist throughout bacteria and archaea, but a more recently discovered genomic locus may offer prokaryotes surprising immunological adaptability. Mediated by a cassette-like genomic locus termed Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR), the microbial adaptive immune system differs from its eukaryotic immune analogues by incorporating new immunities unidirectionally. CRISPR thus stores genomically recoverable timelines of virus-host coevolution in natural organisms refractory to laboratory cultivation. Here we combined a population genetic mathematical model of CRISPR-virus coevolution with six years of metagenomic sequencing to link the recoverable genomic dynamics of CRISPR loci to the unknown population dynamics of virus and host in natural communities. Metagenomic reconstructions in an acid-mine drainage system document CRISPR loci conserving ancestral immune elements to the base-pair across thousands of microbial generations. This ‘trailer-end conservation’ occurs despite rapid viral mutation and despite rapid prokaryotic genomic deletion. The trailer-ends of many reconstructed CRISPR loci are also largely identical across a population. ‘Trailer-end clonality’ occurs despite predictions of host immunological diversity due to negative frequency dependent selection (kill the winner dynamics). Statistical clustering and model simulations explain this lack of diversity by capturing rapid selective sweeps by highly immune CRISPR lineages. Potentially explaining ‘trailer-end conservation,’ we record the first example of a viral bloom overwhelming a CRISPR system. The polyclonal viruses bloom even though they share sequences previously targeted by host CRISPR loci. Simulations show how increasing random genomic deletions in CRISPR loci purges immunological controls on long-lived viral sequences, allowing polyclonal viruses to bloom and depressing host fitness. Our results thus link documented patterns of genomic conservation in CRISPR loci to an evolutionary advantage against persistent viruses. By maintaining old immunities, selection may be tuning CRISPR-mediated immunity against viruses reemerging from lysogeny or migration.
Author Summary
Most microbes appear unculturable in the laboratory, limiting our knowledge of how virus and prokaryotic host evolve in natural systems. However, a genomic locus found in many prokaryotes, CRISPR, may offer cultivation-independent probes of virus-microbe coevolution. Utilizing nearby genes, CRISPR can serially incorporate short viral and plasmid sequences. These sequences bind and cleave cognate regions in subsequent viral and plasmid insertions, conferring adaptive anti-viral and anti-plasmid immunity. By incorporating sequences undirectionally, CRISPR also provides timelines of virus-prokaryote coevolution. Yet, CRISPR only incorporates 30–80 base-pair viral sequences, leaving incomplete coevolutionary recordings. To reconstruct the missing coevolutionary dynamics shaping natural CRISPRs, we combined metagenomic reconstructions with population-scale mathematical modeling. Capturing rare and rapid sweeps of CRISPR diversity by highly immune lines, mathematical modeling explains why naturally reconstructed CRISPR loci are often largely identical across a population. Both model and experiment further document surprising proliferations of old viral sequences against which hosts had preexisting CRISPR immunity. Due to these deadly blooms of ancestral viral elements, CRISPR's conservation of old immune sequences appears to confer a selective advantage. This may explain the striking immunological memory documented in CRISPR loci, which occurs despite rapid viral mutation and despite rapid deletions in prokaryotic genomes.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002475
PMCID: PMC3330103  PMID: 22532794
3.  A PNPase Dependent CRISPR System in Listeria 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(1):e1004065.
The human bacterial pathogen Listeria monocytogenes is emerging as a model organism to study RNA-mediated regulation in pathogenic bacteria. A class of non-coding RNAs called CRISPRs (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) has been described to confer bacterial resistance against invading bacteriophages and conjugative plasmids. CRISPR function relies on the activity of CRISPR associated (cas) genes that encode a large family of proteins with nuclease or helicase activities and DNA and RNA binding domains. Here, we characterized a CRISPR element (RliB) that is expressed and processed in the L. monocytogenes strain EGD-e, which is completely devoid of cas genes. Structural probing revealed that RliB has an unexpected secondary structure comprising basepair interactions between the repeats and the adjacent spacers in place of canonical hairpins formed by the palindromic repeats. Moreover, in contrast to other CRISPR-Cas systems identified in Listeria, RliB-CRISPR is ubiquitously present among Listeria genomes at the same genomic locus and is never associated with the cas genes. We showed that RliB-CRISPR is a substrate for the endogenously encoded polynucleotide phosphorylase (PNPase) enzyme. The spacers of the different Listeria RliB-CRISPRs share many sequences with temperate and virulent phages. Furthermore, we show that a cas-less RliB-CRISPR lowers the acquisition frequency of a plasmid carrying the matching protospacer, provided that trans encoded cas genes of a second CRISPR-Cas system are present in the genome. Importantly, we show that PNPase is required for RliB-CRISPR mediated DNA interference. Altogether, our data reveal a yet undescribed CRISPR system whose both processing and activity depend on PNPase, highlighting a new and unexpected function for PNPase in “CRISPRology”.
Author Summary
CRISPR-Cas systems confer to bacteria and archaea an adaptive immunity that protects them against invading bacteriophages and plasmids. In this study, we characterize a CRISPR (RliB-CRISPR) that is present in all L. monocytogenes strains at the same genomic locus but is never associated with a cas operon. It is an unusual CRISPR that, as we demonstrate, has a secondary structure consisting of basepair interactions between the repeat sequence and the adjacent spacer. We show that the RliB-CRISPR is processed by the endogenously encoded polynucleotide phosphorylase enzyme (PNPase). In addition, we show that the RliB-CRISPR system requires PNPase and presence of trans encoded cas genes of a second CRISPR-Cas system, to mediate DNA interference directed against a plasmid carrying a matching protospacer. Altogether, our data reveal a novel type of CRISPR system in bacteria that requires endogenously encoded PNPase enzyme for its processing and interference activity.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004065
PMCID: PMC3886909  PMID: 24415952
4.  Viral Diversity Threshold for Adaptive Immunity in Prokaryotes 
mBio  2012;3(6):e00456-12.
ABSTRACT
Bacteria and archaea face continual onslaughts of rapidly diversifying viruses and plasmids. Many prokaryotes maintain adaptive immune systems known as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated genes (Cas). CRISPR-Cas systems are genomic sensors that serially acquire viral and plasmid DNA fragments (spacers) that are utilized to target and cleave matching viral and plasmid DNA in subsequent genomic invasions, offering critical immunological memory. Only 50% of sequenced bacteria possess CRISPR-Cas immunity, in contrast to over 90% of sequenced archaea. To probe why half of bacteria lack CRISPR-Cas immunity, we combined comparative genomics and mathematical modeling. Analysis of hundreds of diverse prokaryotic genomes shows that CRISPR-Cas systems are substantially more prevalent in thermophiles than in mesophiles. With sequenced bacteria disproportionately mesophilic and sequenced archaea mostly thermophilic, the presence of CRISPR-Cas appears to depend more on environmental temperature than on bacterial-archaeal taxonomy. Mutation rates are typically severalfold higher in mesophilic prokaryotes than in thermophilic prokaryotes. To quantitatively test whether accelerated viral mutation leads microbes to lose CRISPR-Cas systems, we developed a stochastic model of virus-CRISPR coevolution. The model competes CRISPR-Cas-positive (CRISPR-Cas+) prokaryotes against CRISPR-Cas-negative (CRISPR-Cas−) prokaryotes, continually weighing the antiviral benefits conferred by CRISPR-Cas immunity against its fitness costs. Tracking this cost-benefit analysis across parameter space reveals viral mutation rate thresholds beyond which CRISPR-Cas cannot provide sufficient immunity and is purged from host populations. These results offer a simple, testable viral diversity hypothesis to explain why mesophilic bacteria disproportionately lack CRISPR-Cas immunity. More generally, fundamental limits on the adaptability of biological sensors (Lamarckian evolution) are predicted.
IMPORTANCE
A remarkable recent discovery in microbiology is that bacteria and archaea possess systems conferring immunological memory and adaptive immunity. Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated genes (CRISPR-Cas) are genomic sensors that allow prokaryotes to acquire DNA fragments from invading viruses and plasmids. Providing immunological memory, these stored fragments destroy matching DNA in future viral and plasmid invasions. CRISPR-Cas systems also provide adaptive immunity, keeping up with mutating viruses and plasmids by continually acquiring new DNA fragments. Surprisingly, less than 50% of mesophilic bacteria, in contrast to almost 90% of thermophilic bacteria and Archaea, maintain CRISPR-Cas immunity. Using mathematical modeling, we probe this dichotomy, showing how increased viral mutation rates can explain the reduced prevalence of CRISPR-Cas systems in mesophiles. Rapidly mutating viruses outrun CRISPR-Cas immune systems, likely decreasing their prevalence in bacterial populations. Thus, viral adaptability may select against, rather than for, immune adaptability in prokaryotes.
doi:10.1128/mBio.00456-12
PMCID: PMC3517865  PMID: 23221803
5.  The Small, Slow and Specialized CRISPR and Anti-CRISPR of Escherichia and Salmonella 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(6):e11126.
Prokaryotes thrive in spite of the vast number and diversity of their viruses. This partly results from the evolution of mechanisms to inactivate or silence the action of exogenous DNA. Among these, Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) are unique in providing adaptive immunity against elements with high local resemblance to genomes of previously infecting agents. Here, we analyze the CRISPR loci of 51 complete genomes of Escherichia and Salmonella. CRISPR are in two pairs of loci in Escherichia, one single pair in Salmonella, each pair showing a similar turnover rate, repeat sequence and putative linkage to a common set of cas genes. Yet, phylogeny shows that CRISPR and associated cas genes have different evolutionary histories, the latter being frequently exchanged or lost. In our set, one CRISPR pair seems specialized in plasmids often matching genes coding for the replication, conjugation and antirestriction machinery. Strikingly, this pair also matches the cognate cas genes in which case these genes are absent. The unexpectedly high conservation of this anti-CRISPR suggests selection to counteract the invasion of mobile elements containing functional CRISPR/cas systems. There are few spacers in most CRISPR, which rarely match genomes of known phages. Furthermore, we found that strains divergent less than 250 thousand years ago show virtually identical CRISPR. The lack of congruence between cas, CRISPR and the species phylogeny and the slow pace of CRISPR change make CRISPR poor epidemiological markers in enterobacteria. All these observations are at odds with the expectedly abundant and dynamic repertoire of spacers in an immune system aiming at protecting bacteria from phages. Since we observe purifying selection for the maintenance of CRISPR these results suggest that alternative evolutionary roles for CRISPR remain to be uncovered.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011126
PMCID: PMC2886076  PMID: 20559554
6.  Intricate Interactions between the Bloom-Forming Cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa and Foreign Genetic Elements, Revealed by Diversified Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) Signatures 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(15):5353-5360.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) confer sequence-dependent, adaptive resistance in prokaryotes against viruses and plasmids via incorporation of short sequences, called spacers, derived from foreign genetic elements. CRISPR loci are thus considered to provide records of past infections. To describe the host-parasite (i.e., cyanophages and plasmids) interactions involving the bloom-forming freshwater cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa, we investigated CRISPR in four M. aeruginosa strains and in two previously sequenced genomes. The number of spacers in each locus was larger than the average among prokaryotes. All spacers were strain specific, except for a string of 11 spacers shared in two closely related strains, suggesting diversification of the loci. Using CRISPR repeat-based PCR, 24 CRISPR genotypes were identified in a natural cyanobacterial community. Among 995 unique spacers obtained, only 10 sequences showed similarity to M. aeruginosa phage Ma-LMM01. Of these, six spacers showed only silent or conservative nucleotide mutations compared to Ma-LMM01 sequences, suggesting a strategy by the cyanophage to avert CRISPR immunity dependent on nucleotide identity. These results imply that host-phage interactions can be divided into M. aeruginosa-cyanophage combinations rather than pandemics of population-wide infectious cyanophages. Spacer similarity also showed frequent exposure of M. aeruginosa to small cryptic plasmids that were observed only in a few strains. Thus, the diversification of CRISPR implies that M. aeruginosa has been challenged by diverse communities (almost entirely uncharacterized) of cyanophages and plasmids.
doi:10.1128/AEM.00626-12
PMCID: PMC3416447  PMID: 22636003
7.  Multidrug-Resistant Enterococci Lack CRISPR-cas 
mBio  2010;1(4):e00227-10.
Clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) provide bacteria and archaea with sequence-specific, acquired defense against plasmids and phage. Because mobile elements constitute up to 25% of the genome of multidrug-resistant (MDR) enterococci, it was of interest to examine the codistribution of CRISPR and acquired antibiotic resistance in enterococcal lineages. A database was built from 16 Enterococcus faecalis draft genome sequences to identify commonalities and polymorphisms in the location and content of CRISPR loci. With this data set, we were able to detect identities between CRISPR spacers and sequences from mobile elements, including pheromone-responsive plasmids and phage, suggesting that CRISPR regulates the flux of these elements through the E. faecalis species. Based on conserved locations of CRISPR and CRISPR-cas loci and the discovery of a new CRISPR locus with associated functional genes, CRISPR3-cas, we screened additional E. faecalis strains for CRISPR content, including isolates predating the use of antibiotics. We found a highly significant inverse correlation between the presence of a CRISPR-cas locus and acquired antibiotic resistance in E. faecalis, and examination of an additional eight E. faecium genomes yielded similar results for that species. A mechanism for CRISPR-cas loss in E. faecalis was identified. The inverse relationship between CRISPR-cas and antibiotic resistance suggests that antibiotic use inadvertently selects for enterococcal strains with compromised genome defense.
IMPORTANCE
For many bacteria, including the opportunistically pathogenic enterococci, antibiotic resistance is mediated by acquisition of new DNA and is frequently encoded on mobile DNA elements such as plasmids and transposons. Certain enterococcal lineages have recently emerged that are characterized by abundant mobile DNA, including numerous viruses (phage), and plasmids and transposons encoding multiple antibiotic resistances. These lineages cause hospital infection outbreaks around the world. The striking influx of mobile DNA into these lineages is in contrast to what would be expected if a self (genome)-defense system was present. Clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) defense is a recently discovered mechanism of prokaryotic self-defense that provides a type of acquired immunity. Here, we find that antibiotic resistance and possession of complete CRISPR loci are inversely related and that members of recently emerged high-risk enterococcal lineages lack complete CRISPR loci. Our results suggest that antibiotic therapy inadvertently selects for enterococci with compromised genome defense.
doi:10.1128/mBio.00227-10
PMCID: PMC2975353  PMID: 21060735
8.  A Guild of 45 CRISPR-Associated (Cas) Protein Families and Multiple CRISPR/Cas Subtypes Exist in Prokaryotic Genomes 
PLoS Computational Biology  2005;1(6):e60.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) are a family of DNA direct repeats found in many prokaryotic genomes. Repeats of 21–37 bp typically show weak dyad symmetry and are separated by regularly sized, nonrepetitive spacer sequences. Four CRISPR-associated (Cas) protein families, designated Cas1 to Cas4, are strictly associated with CRISPR elements and always occur near a repeat cluster. Some spacers originate from mobile genetic elements and are thought to confer “immunity” against the elements that harbor these sequences. In the present study, we have systematically investigated uncharacterized proteins encoded in the vicinity of these CRISPRs and found many additional protein families that are strictly associated with CRISPR loci across multiple prokaryotic species. Multiple sequence alignments and hidden Markov models have been built for 45 Cas protein families. These models identify family members with high sensitivity and selectivity and classify key regulators of development, DevR and DevS, in Myxococcus xanthus as Cas proteins. These identifications show that CRISPR/cas gene regions can be quite large, with up to 20 different, tandem-arranged cas genes next to a repeat cluster or filling the region between two repeat clusters. Distinctive subsets of the collection of Cas proteins recur in phylogenetically distant species and correlate with characteristic repeat periodicity. The analyses presented here support initial proposals of mobility of these units, along with the likelihood that loci of different subtypes interact with one another as well as with host cell defensive, replicative, and regulatory systems. It is evident from this analysis that CRISPR/cas loci are larger, more complex, and more heterogeneous than previously appreciated.
Synopsis
The family of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) describes a class of DNA repeats found in nearly half of all bacterial and archaeal genomes. These DNA repeat regions have a remarkably regular structure: unique sequences of constant size, called spacers, sit between each pair of repeats. The DNA repeats do not encode proteins, but appear to be transcribed and processed into small RNAs that may have any number of functions, including resistance to any phage (i.e., virus of bacteria) whose sequence matches a spacer; spacers change rapidly as microbial strains evolve. This work describes 41 new CRISPR-associated (cas) gene families, which are always found near these repeats, in addition to the four previously known. It shows that CRISPR systems belong to different classes, with different repeat patterns, sets of genes, and species ranges. Most of these seem to come and go rather rapidly from their host genomes. These possibly beneficial mobile genetic elements may play an important role in driving prokaryotic evolution.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0010060
PMCID: PMC1282333  PMID: 16292354
9.  CRISPR Inhibition of Prophage Acquisition in Streptococcus pyogenes 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e19543.
Streptococcus pyogenes, one of the major human pathogens, is a unique species since it has acquired diverse strain-specific virulence properties mainly through the acquisition of streptococcal prophages. In addition, S. pyogenes possesses clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/Cas systems that can restrict horizontal gene transfer (HGT) including phage insertion. Therefore, it was of interest to examine the relationship between CRISPR and acquisition of prophages in S. pyogenes. Although two distinct CRISPR loci were found in S. pyogenes, some strains lacked CRISPR and these strains possess significantly more prophages than CRISPR harboring strains. We also found that the number of spacers of S. pyogenes CRISPR was less than for other streptococci. The demonstrated spacer contents, however, suggested that the CRISPR appear to limit phage insertions. In addition, we found a significant inverse correlation between the number of spacers and prophages in S. pyogenes. It was therefore suggested that S. pyogenes CRISPR have permitted phage insertion by lacking its own spacers. Interestingly, in two closely related S. pyogenes strains (SSI-1 and MGAS315), CRISPR activity appeared to be impaired following the insertion of phage genomes into the repeat sequences. Detailed analysis of this prophage insertion site suggested that MGAS315 is the ancestral strain of SSI-1. As a result of analysis of 35 additional streptococcal genomes, it was suggested that the influences of the CRISPR on the phage insertion vary among species even within the same genus. Our results suggested that limitations in CRISPR content could explain the characteristic acquisition of prophages and might contribute to strain-specific pathogenesis in S. pyogenes.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019543
PMCID: PMC3089615  PMID: 21573110
10.  Type I-E CRISPR-Cas Systems Discriminate Target from Non-Target DNA through Base Pairing-Independent PAM Recognition 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(9):e1003742.
Discriminating self and non-self is a universal requirement of immune systems. Adaptive immune systems in prokaryotes are centered around repetitive loci called CRISPRs (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat), into which invader DNA fragments are incorporated. CRISPR transcripts are processed into small RNAs that guide CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins to invading nucleic acids by complementary base pairing. However, to avoid autoimmunity it is essential that these RNA-guides exclusively target invading DNA and not complementary DNA sequences (i.e., self-sequences) located in the host's own CRISPR locus. Previous work on the Type III-A CRISPR system from Staphylococcus epidermidis has demonstrated that a portion of the CRISPR RNA-guide sequence is involved in self versus non-self discrimination. This self-avoidance mechanism relies on sensing base pairing between the RNA-guide and sequences flanking the target DNA. To determine if the RNA-guide participates in self versus non-self discrimination in the Type I-E system from Escherichia coli we altered base pairing potential between the RNA-guide and the flanks of DNA targets. Here we demonstrate that Type I-E systems discriminate self from non-self through a base pairing-independent mechanism that strictly relies on the recognition of four unchangeable PAM sequences. In addition, this work reveals that the first base pair between the guide RNA and the PAM nucleotide immediately flanking the target sequence can be disrupted without affecting the interference phenotype. Remarkably, this indicates that base pairing at this position is not involved in foreign DNA recognition. Results in this paper reveal that the Type I-E mechanism of avoiding self sequences and preventing autoimmunity is fundamentally different from that employed by Type III-A systems. We propose the exclusive targeting of PAM-flanked sequences to be termed a target versus non-target discrimination mechanism.
Author Summary
CRISPR loci and their associated genes form a diverse set of adaptive immune systems that are widespread among prokaryotes. In these systems, the CRISPR-associated genes (cas) encode for proteins that capture fragments of invading DNA and integrate these sequences between repeat sequences of the host's CRISPR locus. This information is used upon re-infection to degrade invader genomes. Storing invader sequences in host genomes necessitates a mechanism to differentiate between invader sequences on invader genomes and invader sequences on the host genome. CRISPR-Cas of Staphylococcus epidermidis (Type III-A system) is inhibited when invader sequences are flanked by repeat sequences, and this prevents targeting of the CRISPR locus on the host genome. Here we demonstrate that Escherichia coli CRISPR-Cas (Type I-E system) is not inhibited by repeat sequences. Instead, this system is specifically activated by the presence of bona fide Protospacer Adjacent Motifs (PAMs) in the target. PAMs are conserved sequences adjoining invader sequences on the invader genome, and these sequences are never adjacent to invader sequences within host CRISPR loci. PAM recognition is not affected by base pairing potential of the target with the crRNA. As such, the Type I-E system lacks the ability to specifically recognize self DNA.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003742
PMCID: PMC3764190  PMID: 24039596
11.  Cleavage of Phage DNA by the Streptococcus thermophilus CRISPR3-Cas System 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40913.
Streptococcus thermophilus, similar to other Bacteria and Archaea, has developed defense mechanisms to protect cells against invasion by foreign nucleic acids, such as virus infections and plasmid transformations. One defense system recently described in these organisms is the CRISPR-Cas system (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats loci coupled to CRISPR-associated genes). Two S. thermophilus CRISPR-Cas systems, CRISPR1-Cas and CRISPR3-Cas, have been shown to actively block phage infection. The CRISPR1-Cas system interferes by cleaving foreign dsDNA entering the cell in a length-specific and orientation-dependant manner. Here, we show that the S. thermophilus CRISPR3-Cas system acts by cleaving phage dsDNA genomes at the same specific position inside the targeted protospacer as observed with the CRISPR1-Cas system. Only one cleavage site was observed in all tested strains. Moreover, we observed that the CRISPR1-Cas and CRISPR3-Cas systems are compatible and, when both systems are present within the same cell, provide increased resistance against phage infection by both cleaving the invading dsDNA. We also determined that overall phage resistance efficiency is correlated to the total number of newly acquired spacers in both CRISPR loci.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040913
PMCID: PMC3401199  PMID: 22911717
12.  The Streptococcus thermophilus CRISPR/Cas system provides immunity in Escherichia coli 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(21):9275-9282.
The CRISPR/Cas adaptive immune system provides resistance against phages and plasmids in Archaea and Bacteria. CRISPR loci integrate short DNA sequences from invading genetic elements that provide small RNA-mediated interference in subsequent exposure to matching nucleic acids. In Streptococcus thermophilus, it was previously shown that the CRISPR1/Cas system can provide adaptive immunity against phages and plasmids by integrating novel spacers following exposure to these foreign genetic elements that subsequently direct the specific cleavage of invasive homologous DNA sequences. Here, we show that the S. thermophilus CRISPR3/Cas system can be transferred into Escherichia coli and provide heterologous protection against plasmid transformation and phage infection. We show that interference is sequence-specific, and that mutations in the vicinity or within the proto-spacer adjacent motif (PAM) allow plasmids to escape CRISPR-encoded immunity. We also establish that cas9 is the sole cas gene necessary for CRISPR-encoded interference. Furthermore, mutation analysis revealed that interference relies on the Cas9 McrA/HNH- and RuvC/RNaseH-motifs. Altogether, our results show that active CRISPR/Cas systems can be transferred across distant genera and provide heterologous interference against invasive nucleic acids. This can be leveraged to develop strains more robust against phage attack, and safer organisms less likely to uptake and disseminate plasmid-encoded undesirable genetic elements.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkr606
PMCID: PMC3241640  PMID: 21813460
13.  The Population and Evolutionary Dynamics of Phage and Bacteria with CRISPR–Mediated Immunity 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(3):e1003312.
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR), together with associated genes (cas), form the CRISPR–cas adaptive immune system, which can provide resistance to viruses and plasmids in bacteria and archaea. Here, we use mathematical models, population dynamic experiments, and DNA sequence analyses to investigate the host–phage interactions in a model CRISPR–cas system, Streptococcus thermophilus DGCC7710 and its virulent phage 2972. At the molecular level, the bacteriophage-immune mutant bacteria (BIMs) and CRISPR–escape mutant phage (CEMs) obtained in this study are consistent with those anticipated from an iterative model of this adaptive immune system: resistance by the addition of novel spacers and phage evasion of resistance by mutation in matching sequences or flanking motifs. While CRISPR BIMs were readily isolated and CEMs generated at high rates (frequencies in excess of 10−6), our population studies indicate that there is more to the dynamics of phage–host interactions and the establishment of a BIM–CEM arms race than predicted from existing assumptions about phage infection and CRISPR–cas immunity. Among the unanticipated observations are: (i) the invasion of phage into populations of BIMs resistant by the acquisition of one (but not two) spacers, (ii) the survival of sensitive bacteria despite the presence of high densities of phage, and (iii) the maintenance of phage-limited communities due to the failure of even two-spacer BIMs to become established in populations with wild-type bacteria and phage. We attribute (i) to incomplete resistance of single-spacer BIMs. Based on the results of additional modeling and experiments, we postulate that (ii) and (iii) can be attributed to the phage infection-associated production of enzymes or other compounds that induce phenotypic phage resistance in sensitive bacteria and kill resistant BIMs. We present evidence in support of these hypotheses and discuss the implications of these results for the ecology and (co)evolution of bacteria and phage.
Author Summary
The evidence that the CRISPR regions of the genomes of archaea and bacteria play a role in the ecology and (co)evolution of these microbes and their viruses is overwhelming: (i) the spacers (variable sequences of 26–72 bp of DNA between the repeats of this region) of these prokaryotes are homologous to the DNA of viruses in their communities; (ii) experimentally, the acquisition and incorporation of spacers of viral DNA can protect these organisms from subsequent infection by these viruses; (iii) experimentally, viruses evade this immunity by mutation in homologous protospacers or protospacer-adjacent motifs (PAMs). Not so clear are the nature and magnitude of the role CRISPR plays in this ecology and evolution. Here, we use mathematical models, experiments with Streptococcus thermophilus and the phage 2972, and DNA sequence analyses to explore the contribution of CRISPR–cas immunity to the ecology and (co)evolution of bacteria and their viruses. The results of this study suggest that the contribution of CRISPR to the ecology of bacteria and phage is more modest and limited, and the conditions for a CRISPR–mediated coevolutionary arms race between these organisms more restrictive, than anticipated from models based on the canonical view of phage infection and CRISPR–cas immunity.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003312
PMCID: PMC3597502  PMID: 23516369
14.  The RNA- and DNA-targeting CRISPR–Cas immune systems of Pyrococcus furiosus 
Biochemical Society transactions  2013;41(6):1416-1421.
Using the hyperthermophile Pyrococcus furiosus, we have delineated several key steps in CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)–Cas (CRISPR-associated) invader defence pathways. P. furiosus has seven transcriptionally active CRISPR loci that together encode a total of 200 crRNAs (CRISPR RNAs). The 27 Cas proteins in this organism represent three distinct pathways and are primarily encoded in two large gene clusters. The Cas6 protein dices CRISPR locus transcripts to generate individual invader-targeting crRNAs. The mature crRNAs include a signature sequence element (the 5′ tag) derived from the CRISPR locus repeat sequence that is important for function. crRNAs are tailored into distinct species and integrated into three distinct crRNA–Cas protein complexes that are all candidate effector complexes. The complex formed by the Cmr [Cas module RAMP (repeat-associated mysterious proteins)] (subtype III-B) proteins cleaves complementary target RNAs and can be programmed to cleave novel target RNAs in a prokaryotic RNAi-like manner. Evidence suggests that the other two CRISPR–Cas systems in P. furiosus, Csa (Cas subtype Apern) (subtype I-A) and Cst (Cas subtype Tneap) (subtype I-B), target invaders at the DNA level. Studies of the CRISPR–Cas systems from P. furiosus are yielding fundamental knowledge of mechanisms of crRNA biogenesis and silencing for three of the diverse CRISPR–Cas pathways, and reveal that organisms such as P. furiosus possess an arsenal of multiple RNA-guided mechanisms to resist diverse invaders. Our knowledge of the fascinating CRISPR–Cas pathways is leading in turn to our ability to co-opt these systems for exciting new biomedical and biotechnological applications.
doi:10.1042/BST20130056
PMCID: PMC3996508  PMID: 24256230
clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR); CRISPR-associated (Cas); non-coding RNA; prokaryotic immunity; Pyrococcus furiosus; virus
15.  Lactobacillus buchneri Genotyping on the Basis of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) Locus Diversity 
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) in combination with associated sequences (cas) constitute the CRISPR-Cas immune system, which uptakes DNA from invasive genetic elements as novel “spacers” that provide a genetic record of immunization events. We investigated the potential of CRISPR-based genotyping of Lactobacillus buchneri, a species relevant for commercial silage, bioethanol, and vegetable fermentations. Upon investigating the occurrence and diversity of CRISPR-Cas systems in Lactobacillus buchneri genomes, we observed a ubiquitous occurrence of CRISPR arrays containing a 36-nucleotide (nt) type II-A CRISPR locus adjacent to four cas genes, including the universal cas1 and cas2 genes and the type II signature gene cas9. Comparative analysis of CRISPR spacer content in 26 L. buchneri pickle fermentation isolates associated with spoilage revealed 10 unique locus genotypes that contained between 9 and 29 variable spacers. We observed a set of conserved spacers at the ancestral end, reflecting a common origin, as well as leader-end polymorphisms, reflecting recent divergence. Some of these spacers showed perfect identity with phage sequences, and many spacers showed homology to Lactobacillus plasmid sequences. Following a comparative analysis of sequences immediately flanking protospacers that matched CRISPR spacers, we identified a novel putative protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM), 5′-AAAA-3′. Overall, these findings suggest that type II-A CRISPR-Cas systems are valuable for genotyping of L. buchneri.
doi:10.1128/AEM.03015-13
PMCID: PMC3911191  PMID: 24271175
16.  Structure and Genetic Content of the Megaplasmids of Neurotoxigenic Clostridium butyricum Type E Strains from Italy 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71324.
We determined the genetic maps of the megaplasmids of six neutoroxigenic Clostridium butyricum type E strains from Italy using molecular and bioinformatics techniques. The megaplasmids are circular, not linear as we had previously proposed. The differently-sized megaplasmids share a genetic region that includes structural, metabolic and regulatory genes. In addition, we found that a 168 kb genetic region is present only in the larger megaplasmids of two tested strains, whereas it is absent from the smaller megaplasmids of the four remaining strains. The genetic region unique to the larger megaplasmids contains, among other features, a locus for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR associated (cas) genes, i.e. a bacterial adaptive immune system providing sequence-specific protection from invading genetic elements. Some CRISPR spacer sequences of the neurotoxigenic C. butyricum type E strains showed homology to prophage, phage and plasmid sequences from closely related clostridia species or from distant species, all sharing the intestinal habitat, suggesting that the CRISPR locus might be involved in the microorganism adaptation to the human or animal intestinal environment. Besides, we report here that each of four distinct CRISPR spacers partially matched DNA sequences of different prophages and phages, at identical nucleotide locations. This suggests that, at least in neurotoxigenic C. butyricum type E, the CRISPR locus is potentially able to recognize the same conserved DNA sequence of different invading genetic elements, besides targeting sequences unique to previously encountered invading DNA, as currently predicted for a CRISPR locus. Thus, the results of this study introduce the possibility that CRISPR loci can provide resistance to a wider range of invading DNA elements than previously appreciated. Whether it is more advantageous for the peculiar neurotoxigenic C. butyricum type E strains to maintain or to lose the CRISPR-cas system remains an open question.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071324
PMCID: PMC3744543  PMID: 23967192
17.  Comparative analysis of CRISPR cassettes from the human gut metagenomic contigs 
BMC Genomics  2014;15:202.
Background
CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a prokaryotic adaptive defence system that provides resistance against alien replicons such as viruses and plasmids. Spacers in a CRISPR cassette confer immunity against viruses and plasmids containing regions complementary to the spacers and hence they retain a footprint of interactions between prokaryotes and their viruses in individual strains and ecosystems. The human gut is a rich habitat populated by numerous microorganisms, but a large fraction of these are unculturable and little is known about them in general and their CRISPR systems in particular.
Results
We used human gut metagenomic data from three open projects in order to characterize the composition and dynamics of CRISPR cassettes in the human-associated microbiota. Applying available CRISPR-identification algorithms and a previously designed filtering procedure to the assembled human gut metagenomic contigs, we found 388 CRISPR cassettes, 373 of which had repeats not observed previously in complete genomes or other datasets. Only 171 of 3,545 identified spacers were coupled with protospacers from the human gut metagenomic contigs. The number of matches to GenBank sequences was negligible, providing protospacers for 26 spacers.
Reconstruction of CRISPR cassettes allowed us to track the dynamics of spacer content. In agreement with other published observations we show that spacers shared by different cassettes (and hence likely older ones) tend to the trailer ends, whereas spacers with matches in the metagenomes are distributed unevenly across cassettes, demonstrating a preference to form clusters closer to the active end of a CRISPR cassette, adjacent to the leader, and hence suggesting dynamical interactions between prokaryotes and viruses in the human gut. Remarkably, spacers match protospacers in the metagenome of the same individual with frequency comparable to a random control, but may match protospacers from metagenomes of other individuals.
Conclusions
The analysis of assembled contigs is complementary to the approach based on the analysis of original reads and hence provides additional data about composition and evolution of CRISPR cassettes, revealing the dynamics of CRISPR-phage interactions in metagenomes.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-202
PMCID: PMC4004331  PMID: 24628983
CRISPR; Human gut; Microbiome
18.  CRISPR Regulation of Intraspecies Diversification by Limiting IS Transposition and Intercellular Recombination 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2013;5(6):1099-1114.
Mobile genetic elements (MGEs) and genetic rearrangement are considered as major driving forces of bacterial diversification. Previous comparative genome analysis of Porphyromonas gingivalis, a pathogen related to periodontitis, implied such an important relationship. As a counterpart system to MGEs, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) in bacteria may be useful for genetic typing. We found that CRISPR typing could be a reasonable alternative to conventional methods for characterizing phylogenetic relationships among 60 highly diverse P. gingivalis isolates. Examination of genetic recombination along with multilocus sequence typing suggests the importance of such events between different isolates. MGEs appear to be strategically located at the breakpoint gaps of complicated genome rearrangements. Of these MGEs, insertion sequences (ISs) were found most frequently. CRISPR analysis identified 2,150 spacers that were clustered into 1,187 unique ones. Most of these spacers exhibited no significant nucleotide similarity to known sequences (97.6%: 1,158/1,187). Surprisingly, CRISPR spacers exhibiting high nucleotide similarity to regions of P. gingivalis genomes including ISs were predominant. The proportion of such spacers to all the unique spacers (1.6%: 19/1,187) was the highest among previous studies, suggesting novel functions for these CRISPRs. These results indicate that P. gingivalis is a bacterium with high intraspecies diversity caused by frequent insertion sequence (IS) transposition, whereas both the introduction of foreign DNA, primarily from other P. gingivalis cells, and IS transposition are limited by CRISPR interference. It is suggested that P. gingivalis CRISPRs could be an important source for understanding the role of CRISPRs in the development of bacterial diversity.
doi:10.1093/gbe/evt075
PMCID: PMC3698921  PMID: 23661565
clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR); genome rearrangement; mobile genetic element (MGE); intercellular recombination; diversification; Porphyromonas gingivalis
19.  CRISPR Interference Directs Strand Specific Spacer Acquisition 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35888.
Background
CRISPR/Cas is a widespread adaptive immune system in prokaryotes. This system integrates short stretches of DNA derived from invading nucleic acids into genomic CRISPR loci, which function as memory of previously encountered invaders. In Escherichia coli, transcripts of these loci are cleaved into small RNAs and utilized by the Cascade complex to bind invader DNA, which is then likely degraded by Cas3 during CRISPR interference.
Results
We describe how a CRISPR-activated E. coli K12 is cured from a high copy number plasmid under non-selective conditions in a CRISPR-mediated way. Cured clones integrated at least one up to five anti-plasmid spacers in genomic CRISPR loci. New spacers are integrated directly downstream of the leader sequence. The spacers are non-randomly selected to target protospacers with an AAG protospacer adjacent motif, which is located directly upstream of the protospacer. A co-occurrence of PAM deviations and CRISPR repeat mutations was observed, indicating that one nucleotide from the PAM is incorporated as the last nucleotide of the repeat during integration of a new spacer. When multiple spacers were integrated in a single clone, all spacer targeted the same strand of the plasmid, implying that CRISPR interference caused by the first integrated spacer directs subsequent spacer acquisition events in a strand specific manner.
Conclusions
The E. coli Type I-E CRISPR/Cas system provides resistance against bacteriophage infection, but also enables removal of residing plasmids. We established that there is a positive feedback loop between active spacers in a cluster – in our case the first acquired spacer - and spacers acquired thereafter, possibly through the use of specific DNA degradation products of the CRISPR interference machinery by the CRISPR adaptation machinery. This loop enables a rapid expansion of the spacer repertoire against an actively present DNA element that is already targeted, amplifying the CRISPR interference effect.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035888
PMCID: PMC3338789  PMID: 22558257
20.  CRISPR Distribution within the Escherichia coli Species Is Not Suggestive of Immunity-Associated Diversifying Selection ▿ †  
Journal of Bacteriology  2011;193(10):2460-2467.
In order to get further insights into the role of the clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) in Escherichia coli, we analyzed the CRISPR diversity in a collection of 290 strains, in the phylogenetic framework of the strains represented by multilocus sequence typing (MLST). The set included 263 natural E. coli isolates exposed to various environments and isolated over a 20-year period from humans and animals, as well as 27 fully sequenced strains. Our analyses confirm that there are two largely independent pairs of CRISPR loci (CRISPR1 and -2 and CRISPR3 and -4), each associated with a different type of cas genes (Ecoli and Ypest, respectively), but that each pair of CRISPRs has similar dynamics. Strikingly, the major phylogenetic group B2 is almost devoid of CRISPRs. The majority of genomes analyzed lack Ypest cas genes and contain CRISPR3 with spacers matching Ypest cas genes. The analysis of relatedness between strains in terms of spacer repertoire and the MLST tree shows a pattern where closely related strains (MLST phylogenetic distance of <0.005 corresponding to at least hundreds of thousands of years) often exhibit identical CRISPRs while more distantly related strains (MLST distance of >0.01) exhibit completely different CRISPRs. This suggests rare but radical turnover of spacers in CRISPRs rather than CRISPR gradual change. We found no link between the presence, size, or content of CRISPRs and the lifestyle of the strains. Our data suggest that, within the E. coli species, CRISPRs do not have the expected characteristics of a classical immune system.
doi:10.1128/JB.01307-10
PMCID: PMC3133152  PMID: 21421763
21.  Transcription, Processing, and Function of CRISPR Cassettes in Escherichia coli 
Molecular microbiology  2010;77(6):1367-1379.
CRISPR/Cas, bacterial and archaeal systems of interference with foreign genetic elements such as viruses or plasmids, consist of DNA loci called CRISPR cassettes (a set of variable spacers regularly separated by palindromic repeats) and associated cas genes. When a CRISPR spacer sequence exactly matches a sequence in a viral genome, the cell can become resistant to the virus. The CRISPR/Cas systems function through small RNAs originating from longer CRISPR cassette transcripts. While laboratory strains of Escherichia coli contain a functional CRISPR/Cas system (as judged by appearance of phage resistance at conditions of artificial co-overexpression of Cas genes and a CRISPR cassette engineered to target a λ phage), no natural phage resistance due to CRISPR system function was observed in this best-studied organism and no E. coli CRISPR spacer matches sequences of well-studied E. coli phages. To better understand the apparently “silent” E. coli CRISPR/Cas system, we systematically characterized processed transcripts from CRISPR cassettes. Using an engineered strain with genomically located spacer matching phage λ we show that endogenous levels of CRISPR cassette and cas genes expression allow only weak protection against infection with the phage. However, derepression of the CRISPR/Cas system by disruption of the hns gene leads to high level of protection.
doi:10.1111/j.1365-2958.2010.07265.x
PMCID: PMC2939963  PMID: 20624226
22.  The Evolutionary Divergence of Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli Is Reflected in Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) Spacer Composition 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2013;79(18):5710-5720.
The Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) strains, including those of O157:H7 and the “big six” serogroups (i.e., serogroups O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, and O145), are a group of pathogens designated food adulterants in the United States. The relatively conserved nature of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) in phylogenetically related E. coli strains makes them potential subtyping markers for STEC detection, and a quantitative PCR (qPCR)-based assay was previously developed for O26:H11, O45:H2, O103:H2, O111:H8, O121:H19, O145:H28, and O157:H7 isolates. To better evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of this qPCR method, the CRISPR loci of 252 O157 and big-six STEC isolates were sequenced and analyzed along with 563 CRISPR1 and 624 CRISPR2 sequences available in GenBank. General conservation of spacer content and order was observed within each O157 and big-six serogroup, validating the qPCR method. Meanwhile, it was found that spacer deletion, the presence of an insertion sequence, and distinct alleles within a serogroup are sources of false-negative reactions. Conservation of CRISPR arrays among isolates expressing the same flagellar antigen, specifically, H7, H2, and H11, suggested that these isolates share an ancestor and provided an explanation for the false positives previously observed in the qPCR results. An analysis of spacer distribution across E. coli strains provided limited evidence for temporal spacer acquisition. Conversely, comparison of CRISPR sequences between strains along the stepwise evolution of O157:H7 from its O55:H7 ancestor revealed that, over this ∼7,000-year span, spacer deletion was the primary force generating CRISPR diversity.
doi:10.1128/AEM.00950-13
PMCID: PMC3754162  PMID: 23851088
23.  CRISPR-Cas Functional Module Exchange in Escherichia coli 
mBio  2014;5(1):e00767-13.
ABSTRACT
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated (cas) genes constitute the CRISPR-Cas systems found in the Bacteria and Archaea domains. At least in some strains they provide an efficient barrier against transmissible genetic elements such as plasmids and viruses. Two CRISPR-Cas systems have been identified in Escherichia coli, pertaining to subtypes I-E (cas-E genes) and I-F (cas-F genes), respectively. In order to unveil the evolutionary dynamics of such systems, we analyzed the sequence variations in the CRISPR-Cas loci of a collection of 131 E. coli strains. Our results show that the strain grouping inferred from these CRISPR data slightly differs from the phylogeny of the species, suggesting the occurrence of recombinational events between CRISPR arrays. Moreover, we determined that the primary cas-E genes of E. coli were altogether replaced with a substantially different variant in a minor group of strains that include K-12. Insertion elements play an important role in this variability. This result underlines the interchange capacity of CRISPR-Cas constituents and hints that at least some functional aspects documented for the K-12 system may not apply to the vast majority of E. coli strains.
IMPORTANCE
Escherichia coli is a model microorganism for the study of diverse aspects such as microbial evolution and is a component of the human gut flora that may have a direct impact in everyday life. This work was undertaken with the purpose of elucidating the evolutionary pathways that have led to the present situation of its significantly different CRISPR-Cas subtypes (I-E and I-F) in several strains of E. coli. In doing so, this information offers a novel and wider understanding of the variety and relevance of these regions within the species. Therefore, this knowledge may provide clues helping researchers better understand these systems for typing purposes and make predictions of their behavior in strains that, depending on their particular genetic dotation, would result in different levels of immunity to foreign genetic elements.
doi:10.1128/mBio.00767-13
PMCID: PMC3903273  PMID: 24473126
24.  Self vs. non-self discrimination during CRISPR RNA-directed immunity 
Nature  2010;463(7280):568-571.
All immune systems must distinguish self from non-self to repel invaders without inducing autoimmunity. Clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) loci protect bacteria and archaea from invasion by phage and plasmid DNA through a genetic interference pathway1–9. CRISPR loci are present in ~ 40% and ~90% of sequenced bacterial and archaeal genomes respectively10 and evolve rapidly, acquiring new spacer sequences to adapt to highly dynamic viral populations1, 11–13. Immunity requires a sequence match between the invasive DNA and the spacers that lie between CRISPR repeats1–9. Each cluster is genetically linked to a subset of the cas (CRISPR-associated) genes14–16 that collectively encode >40 families of proteins involved in adaptation and interference. CRISPR loci encode small CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) that contain a full spacer flanked by partial repeat sequences2, 17–19. CrRNA spacers are thought to identify targets by direct Watson-Crick pairing with invasive “protospacer” DNA2, 3, but how they avoid targeting the spacer DNA within the encoding CRISPR locus itself is unknown. Here we have defined the mechanism of CRISPR self/non-self discrimination. In Staphylococcus epidermidis, target/crRNA mismatches at specific positions outside of the spacer sequence license foreign DNA for interference, whereas extended pairing between crRNA and CRISPR DNA repeats prevents autoimmunity. Hence, this CRISPR system uses the base-pairing potential of crRNAs not only to specify a target but also to spare the bacterial chromosome from interference. Differential complementarity outside of the spacer sequence is a built-in feature of all CRISPR systems, suggesting that this mechanism is a broadly applicable solution to the self/non-self dilemma that confronts all immune pathways.
doi:10.1038/nature08703
PMCID: PMC2813891  PMID: 20072129
25.  Abundant and Diverse Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat Spacers in Clostridium difficile Strains and Prophages Target Multiple Phage Types within This Pathogen 
mBio  2014;5(5):e01045-13.
ABSTRACT
Clostridium difficile is an important human-pathogenic bacterium causing antibiotic-associated nosocomial infections worldwide. Mobile genetic elements and bacteriophages have helped shape C. difficile genome evolution. In many bacteria, phage infection may be controlled by a form of bacterial immunity called the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/CRISPR-associated (CRISPR/Cas) system. This uses acquired short nucleotide sequences (spacers) to target homologous sequences (protospacers) in phage genomes. C. difficile carries multiple CRISPR arrays, and in this paper we examine the relationships between the host- and phage-carried elements of the system. We detected multiple matches between spacers and regions in 31 C. difficile phage and prophage genomes. A subset of the spacers was located in prophage-carried CRISPR arrays. The CRISPR spacer profiles generated suggest that related phages would have similar host ranges. Furthermore, we show that C. difficile strains of the same ribotype could either have similar or divergent CRISPR contents. Both synonymous and nonsynonymous mutations in the protospacer sequences were identified, as well as differences in the protospacer adjacent motif (PAM), which could explain how phages escape this system. This paper illustrates how the distribution and diversity of CRISPR spacers in C. difficile, and its prophages, could modulate phage predation for this pathogen and impact upon its evolution and pathogenicity.
IMPORTANCE
Clostridium difficile is a significant bacterial human pathogen which undergoes continual genome evolution, resulting in the emergence of new virulent strains. Phages are major facilitators of genome evolution in other bacterial species, and we use sequence analysis-based approaches in order to examine whether the CRISPR/Cas system could control these interactions across divergent C. difficile strains. The presence of spacer sequences in prophages that are homologous to phage genomes raises an extra level of complexity in this predator-prey microbial system. Our results demonstrate that the impact of phage infection in this system is widespread and that the CRISPR/Cas system is likely to be an important aspect of the evolutionary dynamics in C. difficile.
doi:10.1128/mBio.01045-13
PMCID: PMC4173771  PMID: 25161187

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