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1.  CRISPR-Cas: an adaptive immunity system in prokaryotes 
Most of the archaea and numerous bacteria possess an elaborate system of adaptive immunity to mobile genetic elements known as the CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)-associated system (CRISPR-Cas), which consists of arrays of short repeats interspersed with unique DNA spacers and adjacent operons encompassing CRISPR-associated (cas) genes with predicted and, in some cases, experimentally validated nuclease, helicase, and polymerase activities. The system functions by integrating fragments of alien DNA between the repeats and employing their transcripts to degrade the DNA of the respective invading elements via an RNA interference-like mechanism. The CRISPR-Cas system is a case of apparent Lamarckian inheritance.
PMCID: PMC2884157  PMID: 20556198
2.  Viral Diversity Threshold for Adaptive Immunity in Prokaryotes 
mBio  2012;3(6):e00456-12.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC3517865  PMID: 23221803
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.
PMCID: PMC3886909  PMID: 24415952
4.  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.
PMCID: PMC3374615  PMID: 22719260
5.  Cytotoxic Chromosomal Targeting by CRISPR/Cas Systems Can Reshape Bacterial Genomes and Expel or Remodel Pathogenicity Islands 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(4):e1003454.
In prokaryotes, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) and their associated (Cas) proteins constitute a defence system against bacteriophages and plasmids. CRISPR/Cas systems acquire short spacer sequences from foreign genetic elements and incorporate these into their CRISPR arrays, generating a memory of past invaders. Defence is provided by short non-coding RNAs that guide Cas proteins to cleave complementary nucleic acids. While most spacers are acquired from phages and plasmids, there are examples of spacers that match genes elsewhere in the host bacterial chromosome. In Pectobacterium atrosepticum the type I-F CRISPR/Cas system has acquired a self-complementary spacer that perfectly matches a protospacer target in a horizontally acquired island (HAI2) involved in plant pathogenicity. Given the paucity of experimental data about CRISPR/Cas–mediated chromosomal targeting, we examined this process by developing a tightly controlled system. Chromosomal targeting was highly toxic via targeting of DNA and resulted in growth inhibition and cellular filamentation. The toxic phenotype was avoided by mutations in the cas operon, the CRISPR repeats, the protospacer target, and protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM) beside the target. Indeed, the natural self-targeting spacer was non-toxic due to a single nucleotide mutation adjacent to the target in the PAM sequence. Furthermore, we show that chromosomal targeting can result in large-scale genomic alterations, including the remodelling or deletion of entire pre-existing pathogenicity islands. These features can be engineered for the targeted deletion of large regions of bacterial chromosomes. In conclusion, in DNA–targeting CRISPR/Cas systems, chromosomal interference is deleterious by causing DNA damage and providing a strong selective pressure for genome alterations, which may have consequences for bacterial evolution and pathogenicity.
Author Summary
Bacteria have evolved mechanisms that provide protection from continual invasion by viruses and other foreign elements. Resistance systems, known as CRISPR/Cas, were recently discovered and equip bacteria and archaea with an “adaptive immune system.” This adaptive immunity provides a highly evolvable sequence-specific small RNA–based memory of past invasions by viruses and foreign genetic elements. There are many cases where these systems appear to target regions within the bacterial host's own genome (a possible autoimmunity), but the evolutionary rationale for this is unclear. Here, we demonstrate that CRISPR/Cas targeting of the host chromosome is highly toxic but that cells survive through mutations that alleviate the immune mechanism. We have used this phenotype to gain insight into how these systems function and show that large changes in the bacterial genome can occur. For example, targeting of a chromosomal pathogenicity island, important for virulence of the potato pathogen Pectobacterium atrosepticum, resulted in deletion of the island, which constituted ∼2% of the bacterial genome. These results have broad significance for the role of CRISPR/Cas systems and their impact on the evolution of bacterial genomes and virulence. In addition, this study demonstrates their potential as a tool for the targeted deletion of specific regions of bacterial chromosomes.
PMCID: PMC3630108  PMID: 23637624
6.  Substrate Generation for Endonucleases of CRISPR/Cas Systems 
The interaction of viruses and their prokaryotic hosts shaped the evolution of bacterial and archaeal life. Prokaryotes developed several strategies to evade viral attacks that include restriction modification, abortive infection and CRISPR/Cas systems. These adaptive immune systems found in many Bacteria and most Archaea consist of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) sequences and a number of CRISPR associated (Cas) genes (Fig. 1)1-3. Different sets of Cas proteins and repeats define at least three major divergent types of CRISPR/Cas systems 4. The universal proteins Cas1 and Cas2 are proposed to be involved in the uptake of viral DNA that will generate a new spacer element between two repeats at the 5' terminus of an extending CRISPR cluster 5. The entire cluster is transcribed into a precursor-crRNA containing all spacer and repeat sequences and is subsequently processed by an enzyme of the diverse Cas6 family into smaller crRNAs 6-8. These crRNAs consist of the spacer sequence flanked by a 5' terminal (8 nucleotides) and a 3' terminal tag derived from the repeat sequence 9. A repeated infection of the virus can now be blocked as the new crRNA will be directed by a Cas protein complex (Cascade) to the viral DNA and identify it as such via base complementarity10. Finally, for CRISPR/Cas type 1 systems, the nuclease Cas3 will destroy the detected invader DNA 11,12 .
These processes define CRISPR/Cas as an adaptive immune system of prokaryotes and opened a fascinating research field for the study of the involved Cas proteins. The function of many Cas proteins is still elusive and the causes for the apparent diversity of the CRISPR/Cas systems remain to be illuminated. Potential activities of most Cas proteins were predicted via detailed computational analyses. A major fraction of Cas proteins are either shown or proposed to function as endonucleases 4.
Here, we present methods to generate crRNAs and precursor-cRNAs for the study of Cas endoribonucleases. Different endonuclease assays require either short repeat sequences that can directly be synthesized as RNA oligonucleotides or longer crRNA and pre-crRNA sequences that are generated via in vitro T7 RNA polymerase run-off transcription. This methodology allows the incorporation of radioactive nucleotides for the generation of internally labeled endonuclease substrates and the creation of synthetic or mutant crRNAs. Cas6 endonuclease activity is utilized to mature pre-crRNAs into crRNAs with 5'-hydroxyl and a 2',3'-cyclic phosphate termini.
PMCID: PMC3490271  PMID: 22986408
Molecular biology; Issue 67; CRISPR/Cas; endonuclease;  in vitro transcription; crRNA; Cas6
7.  Impact of Different Target Sequences on Type III CRISPR-Cas Immunity 
Journal of Bacteriology  2016;198(6):941-950.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) loci encode an adaptive immune system of prokaryotes. Within these loci, sequences intercalated between repeats known as “spacers” specify the targets of CRISPR immunity. The majority of spacers match sequences present in phages and plasmids; however, it is not known whether there are differences in the immunity provided against these diverse invaders. We studied this issue using the Staphylococcus epidermidis CRISPR system, which harbors spacers matching both phages and plasmids. We determined that this CRISPR system provides similar levels of defense against the conjugative plasmid pG0400 and the bacteriophage CNPX. However, whereas antiplasmid immunity was very sensitive to the introduction of mismatches in the target sequence, mutations in the phage target were largely tolerated. Placing the phage and plasmid targets into a vector that can be both conjugated and transduced, we demonstrated that the route of entry of the target has no impact on the effect of the mismatches on immunity. Instead, we established that the specific sequences of each spacer/target determine the susceptibility of the S. epidermidis CRISPR system to mutations. Therefore, spacers that are more resistant to mismatches would provide long-term immunity against phages and plasmids that otherwise would escape CRISPR targeting through the accumulation of mutations in the target sequence. These results uncover an unexpected complexity in the arms race between CRISPR-Cas systems and prokaryotic infectious genetic elements.
IMPORTANCE CRISPR-Cas loci protect bacteria and archaea from both phage infection and plasmid invasion. These loci harbor short sequences of phage and plasmid origin known as “spacers” that specify the targets of CRISPR-Cas immunity. The presence of a spacer sequence matching a phage or plasmid ensures host immunity against infection by these genetic elements. In turn, phages and plasmids constantly mutate their targets to avoid recognition by the spacers of the CRISPR-Cas immune system. In this study, we demonstrated that different spacer sequences vary in their ability to tolerate target mutations that allow phages and plasmids to escape from CRISPR-Cas immunity. These results uncover an unexpected complexity in the arms race between CRISPR-Cas systems and prokaryotic infectious genetic elements.
PMCID: PMC4772595  PMID: 26755632
8.  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.
PMCID: PMC3330103  PMID: 22532794
9.  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.
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.
PMCID: PMC2975353  PMID: 21060735
10.  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.
PMCID: PMC2886076  PMID: 20559554
11.  The Role of CRISPR-Cas Systems in Virulence of Pathogenic Bacteria 
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated (Cas) genes are present in many bacterial and archaeal genomes. Since the discovery of the typical CRISPR loci in the 1980s, well before their physiological role was revealed, their variable sequences have been used as a complementary typing tool in diagnostic, epidemiologic, and evolutionary analyses of prokaryotic strains. The discovery that CRISPR spacers are often identical to sequence fragments of mobile genetic elements was a major breakthrough that eventually led to the elucidation of CRISPR-Cas as an adaptive immunity system. Key elements of this unique prokaryotic defense system are small CRISPR RNAs that guide nucleases to complementary target nucleic acids of invading viruses and plasmids, generally followed by the degradation of the invader. In addition, several recent studies have pointed at direct links of CRISPR-Cas to regulation of a range of stress-related phenomena. An interesting example concerns a pathogenic bacterium that possesses a CRISPR-associated ribonucleoprotein complex that may play a dual role in defense and/or virulence. In this review, we describe recently reported cases of potential involvement of CRISPR-Cas systems in bacterial stress responses in general and bacterial virulence in particular.
PMCID: PMC3957734  PMID: 24600041
12.  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.
PMCID: PMC3597502  PMID: 23516369
13.  A putative RNA-interference-based immune system in prokaryotes: computational analysis of the predicted enzymatic machinery, functional analogies with eukaryotic RNAi, and hypothetical mechanisms of action 
Biology Direct  2006;1:7.
All archaeal and many bacterial genomes contain Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindrome Repeats (CRISPR) and variable arrays of the CRISPR-associated (cas) genes that have been previously implicated in a novel form of DNA repair on the basis of comparative analysis of their protein product sequences. However, the proximity of CRISPR and cas genes strongly suggests that they have related functions which is hard to reconcile with the repair hypothesis.
The protein sequences of the numerous cas gene products were classified into ~25 distinct protein families; several new functional and structural predictions are described. Comparative-genomic analysis of CRISPR and cas genes leads to the hypothesis that the CRISPR-Cas system (CASS) is a mechanism of defense against invading phages and plasmids that functions analogously to the eukaryotic RNA interference (RNAi) systems. Specific functional analogies are drawn between several components of CASS and proteins involved in eukaryotic RNAi, including the double-stranded RNA-specific helicase-nuclease (dicer), the endonuclease cleaving target mRNAs (slicer), and the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. However, none of the CASS components is orthologous to its apparent eukaryotic functional counterpart. It is proposed that unique inserts of CRISPR, some of which are homologous to fragments of bacteriophage and plasmid genes, function as prokaryotic siRNAs (psiRNA), by base-pairing with the target mRNAs and promoting their degradation or translation shutdown. Specific hypothetical schemes are developed for the functioning of the predicted prokaryotic siRNA system and for the formation of new CRISPR units with unique inserts encoding psiRNA conferring immunity to the respective newly encountered phages or plasmids. The unique inserts in CRISPR show virtually no similarity even between closely related bacterial strains which suggests their rapid turnover, on evolutionary scale. Corollaries of this finding are that, even among closely related prokaryotes, the most commonly encountered phages and plasmids are different and/or that the dominant phages and plasmids turn over rapidly.
We proposed previously that Cas proteins comprise a novel DNA repair system. The association of the cas genes with CRISPR and, especially, the presence, in CRISPR units, of unique inserts homologous to phage and plasmid genes make us abandon this hypothesis. It appears most likely that CASS is a prokaryotic system of defense against phages and plasmids that functions via the RNAi mechanism. The functioning of this system seems to involve integration of fragments of foreign genes into archaeal and bacterial chromosomes yielding heritable immunity to the respective agents. However, it appears that this inheritance is extremely unstable on the evolutionary scale such that the repertoires of unique psiRNAs are completely replaced even in closely related prokaryotes, presumably, in response to rapidly changing repertoires of dominant phages and plasmids.
This article was reviewed by: Eric Bapteste, Patrick Forterre, and Martijn Huynen.
Open peer review
Reviewed by Eric Bapteste, Patrick Forterre, and Martijn Huynen.
For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewers' comments section.
PMCID: PMC1462988  PMID: 16545108
14.  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.
PMCID: PMC2813891  PMID: 20072129
15.  CRISPR-Cas Systems in the Cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 Exhibit Distinct Processing Pathways Involving at Least Two Cas6 and a Cmr2 Protein 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56470.
The CRISPR-Cas (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindrome Repeats – CRISPR associated proteins) system provides adaptive immunity in archaea and bacteria. A hallmark of CRISPR-Cas is the involvement of short crRNAs that guide associated proteins in the destruction of invading DNA or RNA. We present three fundamentally distinct processing pathways in the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 for a subtype I-D (CRISPR1), and two type III systems (CRISPR2 and CRISPR3), which are located together on the plasmid pSYSA. Using high-throughput transcriptome analyses and assays of transcript accumulation we found all CRISPR loci to be highly expressed, but the individual crRNAs had profoundly varying abundances despite single transcription start sites for each array. In a computational analysis, CRISPR3 spacers with stable secondary structures displayed a greater ratio of degradation products. These structures might interfere with the loading of the crRNAs into RNP complexes, explaining the varying abundancies. The maturation of CRISPR1 and CRISPR2 transcripts depends on at least two different Cas6 proteins. Mutation of gene sll7090, encoding a Cmr2 protein led to the disappearance of all CRISPR3-derived crRNAs, providing in vivo evidence for a function of Cmr2 in the maturation, regulation of expression, Cmr complex formation or stabilization of CRISPR3 transcripts. Finally, we optimized CRISPR repeat structure prediction and the results indicate that the spacer context can influence individual repeat structures.
PMCID: PMC3575380  PMID: 23441196
16.  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.
PMCID: PMC3764190  PMID: 24039596
17.  Functional Analysis of Porphyromonas gingivalis W83 CRISPR-Cas Systems 
Journal of Bacteriology  2015;197(16):2631-2641.
The CRISPR-Cas (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/CRISPR-associated genes) system provides prokaryotic cells with an adaptive and heritable immune response to foreign genetic elements, such as viruses, plasmids, and transposons. It is present in the majority of Archaea and almost half of species of Bacteria. Porphyromonas gingivalis is an important human pathogen that has been proven to be an etiological agent of periodontitis and has been linked to systemic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease. At least 95% of clinical strains of P. gingivalis carry CRISPR arrays, suggesting that these arrays play an important function in vivo. Here we show that all four CRISPR arrays present in the P. gingivalis W83 genome are transcribed. For one of the arrays, we demonstrate in vivo activity against double-stranded DNA constructs containing protospacer sequences accompanied at the 3′ end by an NGG protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM). Most of the 44 spacers present in the genome of P. gingivalis W83 share no significant similarity with any known sequences, although 4 spacers are similar to sequences from bacteria found in the oral cavity and the gastrointestinal tract. Four spacers match genomic sequences of the host; however, none of these is flanked at its 3′ terminus by the appropriate PAM element.
IMPORTANCE The CRISPR-Cas (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/CRISPR-associated genes) system is a unique system that provides prokaryotic cells with an adaptive and heritable immunity. In this report, we show that the CRISPR-Cas system of P. gingivalis, an important human pathogen associated with periodontitis and possibly also other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease, is active and provides protection from foreign genetic elements. Importantly, the data presented here may be useful for better understanding the communication between cells in larger bacterial communities and, consequently, the process of disease development and progression.
PMCID: PMC4507336  PMID: 26013482
18.  Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat-Dependent, Biofilm-Specific Death of Pseudomonas aeruginosa Mediated by Increased Expression of Phage-Related Genes 
mBio  2015;6(3):e00129-15.
The clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated (CRISPR/Cas) system is an adaptive immune system present in many archaea and bacteria. CRISPR/Cas systems are incredibly diverse, and there is increasing evidence of CRISPR/Cas systems playing a role in cellular functions distinct from phage immunity. Previously, our laboratory reported one such alternate function in which the type 1-F CRISPR/Cas system of the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa strain UCBPP-PA14 (abbreviated as P. aeruginosa PA14) inhibits both biofilm formation and swarming motility when the bacterium is lysogenized by the bacteriophage DMS3. In this study, we demonstrated that the presence of just the DMS3 protospacer and the protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM) on the P. aeruginosa genome is necessary and sufficient for this CRISPR-dependent loss of these group behaviors, with no requirement of additional DMS3 sequences. We also demonstrated that the interaction of the CRISPR system with the DMS3 protospacer induces expression of SOS-regulated phage-related genes, including the well-characterized pyocin operon, through the activity of the nuclease Cas3 and subsequent RecA activation. Furthermore, our data suggest that expression of the phage-related genes results in bacterial cell death on a surface due to the inability of the CRISPR-engaged strain to downregulate phage-related gene expression, while these phage-related genes have minimal impact on growth and viability under planktonic conditions. Deletion of the phage-related genes restores biofilm formation and swarming motility while still maintaining a functional CRISPR/Cas system, demonstrating that the loss of these group behaviors is an indirect effect of CRISPR self-targeting.
The various CRISPR/Cas systems found in both archaea and bacteria are incredibly diverse, and advances in understanding the complex mechanisms of these varied systems has not only increased our knowledge of host-virus interplay but has also led to a major advancement in genetic engineering. Recently, increasing evidence suggested that bacteria can co-opt the CRISPR system for functions besides adaptive immunity to phage infection. This study examined one such alternative function, and this report describes the mechanism of type 1-F CRISPR-dependent loss of the biofilm and swarming in the medically relevant opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Since both biofilm formation and swarming motility are important in the virulence of P. aeruginosa, a full understanding of how the CRISPR system can regulate such group behaviors is fundamental to developing new therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC4436051  PMID: 25968642
19.  The Contribution of Genetic Recombination to CRISPR Array Evolution 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2015;7(7):1925-1939.
CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is a microbial immune system against foreign DNA. Recognition sequences (spacers) encoded within the CRISPR array mediate the immune reaction in a sequence-specific manner. The known mechanisms for the evolution of CRISPR arrays include spacer acquisition from foreign DNA elements at the time of invasion and array erosion through spacer deletion. Here, we consider the contribution of genetic recombination between homologous CRISPR arrays to the evolution of spacer repertoire. Acquisition of spacers from exogenic arrays via recombination may confer the recipient with immunity against unencountered antagonists. For this purpose, we develop a novel method for the detection of recombination in CRISPR arrays by modeling the spacer order in arrays from multiple strains from the same species. Because the evolutionary signal of spacer recombination may be similar to that of pervasive spacer deletions or independent spacer acquisition, our method entails a robustness analysis of the recombination inference by a statistical comparison to resampled and perturbed data sets. We analyze CRISPR data sets from four bacterial species: two Gammaproteobacteria species harboring CRISPR type I and two Streptococcus species harboring CRISPR type II loci. We find that CRISPR array evolution in Escherichia coli and Streptococcus agalactiae can be explained solely by vertical inheritance and differential spacer deletion. In Pseudomonas aeruginosa, we find an excess of single spacers potentially incorporated into the CRISPR locus during independent acquisition events. In Streptococcus thermophilus, evidence for spacer acquisition by recombination is present in 5 out of 70 strains. Genetic recombination has been proposed to accelerate adaptation by combining beneficial mutations that arose in independent lineages. However, for most species under study, we find that CRISPR evolution is shaped mainly by spacer acquisition and loss rather than recombination. Since the evolution of spacer content is characterized by a rapid turnover, it is likely that recombination is not beneficial for improving phage resistance in the strains under study, or that it cannot be detected in the resolution of intraspecies comparisons.
PMCID: PMC4524480  PMID: 26085541
evolutionary microbiology; lateral gene transfer; bacterial genomics
20.  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.
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.
PMCID: PMC1282333  PMID: 16292354
21.  An Archaeal Immune System Can Detect Multiple Protospacer Adjacent Motifs (PAMs) to Target Invader DNA* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2012;287(40):33351-33363.
Background: CRISPR/Cas systems allow archaea and bacteria to resist invasion by foreign nucleic acids.
Results: The CRISPR/Cas system in Haloferax recognized six different PAM sequences that could trigger a defense response.
Conclusion: The PAM sequence specificity of the defense response in type I CRISPR systems is more relaxed than previously thought.
Significance: The PAM sequence requirements for interference and adaptation appear to differ markedly.
The clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated (Cas) system provides adaptive and heritable immunity against foreign genetic elements in most archaea and many bacteria. Although this system is widespread and diverse with many subtypes, only a few species have been investigated to elucidate the precise mechanisms for the defense of viruses or plasmids. Approximately 90% of all sequenced archaea encode CRISPR/Cas systems, but their molecular details have so far only been examined in three archaeal species: Sulfolobus solfataricus, Sulfolobus islandicus, and Pyrococcus furiosus. Here, we analyzed the CRISPR/Cas system of Haloferax volcanii using a plasmid-based invader assay. Haloferax encodes a type I-B CRISPR/Cas system with eight Cas proteins and three CRISPR loci for which the identity of protospacer adjacent motifs (PAMs) was unknown until now. We identified six different PAM sequences that are required upstream of the protospacer to permit target DNA recognition. This is only the second archaeon for which PAM sequences have been determined, and the first CRISPR group with such a high number of PAM sequences. Cells could survive the plasmid challenge if their CRISPR/Cas system was altered or defective, e.g. by deletion of the cas gene cassette. Experimental PAM data were supplemented with bioinformatics data on Haloferax and Haloquadratum.
PMCID: PMC3460438  PMID: 22767603
Archaea; Microbiology; RNA; RNA Metabolism; RNA Processing; CRISPR/Cas; Haloferax volcanii; PAM
22.  CRISPR-Cas systems: prokaryotes upgrade to adaptive immunity 
Molecular cell  2014;54(2):234-244.
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR), and associated proteins (Cas) comprise the CRISPR-Cas system, which confers adaptive immunity against exogenic elements in many bacteria and most archaea. CRISPR-mediated immunization occurs through the uptake of DNA from invasive genetic elements such as plasmids and viruses, followed by its integration into CRISPR loci. These loci are subsequently transcribed and processed into small interfering RNAs that guide nucleases for specific cleavage of complementary sequences. Conceptually, CRISPR-Cas shares functional features with the mammalian adaptive immune system, while also exhibiting characteristics of Lamarckian evolution. Because immune markers spliced from exogenous agents are integrated iteratively in CRISPR loci, they constitute a genetic record of vaccination events and reflect environmental conditions and changes over time. Cas endonucleases, which can be reprogrammed by small guide RNAs have shown unprecedented potential and flexibility for genome editing, and can be repurposed for numerous DNA targeting applications including transcriptional control.
PMCID: PMC4025954  PMID: 24766887
23.  CRISPR-Cas 
RNA Biology  2013;10(5):679-686.
The CRISPR-Cas (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, CRISPR-associated genes) is an adaptive immunity system in bacteria and archaea that functions via a distinct self-non-self recognition mechanism that is partially analogous to the mechanism of eukaryotic RNA interference (RNAi). The CRISPR-Cas system incorporates fragments of virus or plasmid DNA into the CRISPR repeat cassettes and employs the processed transcripts of these spacers as guide RNAs to cleave the cognate foreign DNA or RNA. The Cas proteins, however, are not homologous to the proteins involved in RNAi and comprise numerous, highly diverged families. The majority of the Cas proteins contain diverse variants of the RNA recognition motif (RRM), a widespread RNA-binding domain. Despite the fast evolution that is typical of the cas genes, the presence of diverse versions of the RRM in most Cas proteins provides for a simple scenario for the evolution of the three distinct types of CRISPR-cas systems. In addition to several proteins that are directly implicated in the immune response, the cas genes encode a variety of proteins that are homologous to prokaryotic toxins that typically possess nuclease activity. The predicted toxins associated with CRISPR-Cas systems include the essential Cas2 protein, proteins of COG1517 that, in addition to a ligand-binding domain and a helix-turn-helix domain, typically contain different nuclease domains and several other predicted nucleases. The tight association of the CRISPR-Cas immunity systems with predicted toxins that, upon activation, would induce dormancy or cell death suggests that adaptive immunity and dormancy/suicide response are functionally coupled. Such coupling could manifest in the persistence state being induced and potentially providing conditions for more effective action of the immune system or in cell death being triggered when immunity fails.
PMCID: PMC3737325  PMID: 23439366
CRISPR-Cas; adaptive immunity; innate immunity; programmed cell death; dormancy; RRM domain
24.  CRISPR-Cas systems target a diverse collection of invasive mobile genetic elements in human microbiomes 
Genome Biology  2013;14(4):R40.
Bacteria and archaea develop immunity against invading genomes by incorporating pieces of the invaders' sequences, called spacers, into a clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) locus between repeats, forming arrays of repeat-spacer units. When spacers are expressed, they direct CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins to silence complementary invading DNA. In order to characterize the invaders of human microbiomes, we use spacers from CRISPR arrays that we had previously assembled from shotgun metagenomic datasets, and identify contigs that contain these spacers' targets.
We discover 95,000 contigs that are putative invasive mobile genetic elements, some targeted by hundreds of CRISPR spacers. We find that oral sites in healthy human populations have a much greater variety of mobile genetic elements than stool samples. Mobile genetic elements carry genes encoding diverse functions: only 7% of the mobile genetic elements are similar to known phages or plasmids, although a much greater proportion contain phage- or plasmid-related genes. A small number of contigs share similarity with known integrative and conjugative elements, providing the first examples of CRISPR defenses against this class of element. We provide detailed analyses of a few large mobile genetic elements of various types, and a relative abundance analysis of mobile genetic elements and putative hosts, exploring the dynamic activities of mobile genetic elements in human microbiomes. A joint analysis of mobile genetic elements and CRISPRs shows that protospacer-adjacent motifs drive their interaction network; however, some CRISPR-Cas systems target mobile genetic elements lacking motifs.
We identify a large collection of invasive mobile genetic elements in human microbiomes, an important resource for further study of the interaction between the CRISPR-Cas immune system and invaders.
PMCID: PMC4053933  PMID: 23628424
CRISPR-Cas system; human microbiome; mobile genetic element (MGE)
25.  Adapting to new threats: the generation of memory by CRISPR-Cas immune systems 
Molecular microbiology  2014;93(1):1-9.
Clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) loci and their associated genes (cas) confer bacteria and archaea with adaptive immunity against phages and other invading genetic elements. A fundamental requirement of any immune system is the ability to build a memory of past infections in order to deal more efficiently with recurrent infections. The adaptive feature of CRISPR-Cas immune systems relies on their ability to memorize DNA sequences of invading molecules and integrate them in between the repetitive sequences of the CRISPR array in the form of “spacers”. The transcription of a spacer generates a small antisense RNA that is used by RNA-guided Cas nucleases to cleave the invading nucleic acid in order to protect the cell from infection. The acquisition of new spacers allows the CRISPR-Cas immune system to rapidly adapt against new threats and is therefore termed “adaptation”. Recent studies have begun to elucidate the genetic requirements for adaptation and have demonstrated that rather than being a stochastic process, the selection of new spacers is influenced by several factors. We review here our current knowledge of the CRISPR adaptation mechanism.
PMCID: PMC4104294  PMID: 24806524
CRISPR/Cas systems; spacer acquisition; adaptation; bacteriophage; adaptive immunity; horizontal gene transfer

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