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1.  CRISPR-Cas systems target a diverse collection of invasive mobile genetic elements in human microbiomes 
Genome Biology  2013;14(4):R40.
Background
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.
Results
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.
Conclusions
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.
doi:10.1186/gb-2013-14-4-r40
PMCID: PMC4053933  PMID: 23628424
CRISPR-Cas system; human microbiome; mobile genetic element (MGE)
2.  Expanding the catalog of cas genes with metagenomes 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;42(4):2448-2459.
The CRISPR (clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)–Cas adaptive immune system is an important defense system in bacteria, providing targeted defense against invasions of foreign nucleic acids. CRISPR–Cas systems consist of CRISPR loci and cas (CRISPR-associated) genes: sequence segments of invaders are incorporated into host genomes at CRISPR loci to generate specificity, while adjacent cas genes encode proteins that mediate the defense process. We pursued an integrated approach to identifying putative cas genes from genomes and metagenomes, combining similarity searches with genomic neighborhood analysis. Application of our approach to bacterial genomes and human microbiome datasets allowed us to significantly expand the collection of cas genes: the sequence space of the Cas9 family, the key player in the recently engineered RNA-guided platforms for genome editing in eukaryotes, is expanded by at least two-fold with metagenomic datasets. We found genes in cas loci encoding other functions, for example, toxins and antitoxins, confirming the recently discovered potential of coupling between adaptive immunity and the dormancy/suicide systems. We further identified 24 novel Cas families; one novel family contains 20 proteins, all identified from the human microbiome datasets, illustrating the importance of metagenomics projects in expanding the diversity of cas genes.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkt1262
PMCID: PMC3936711  PMID: 24319142
3.  Holding a grudge 
RNA Biology  2013;10(5):900-906.
The CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)/Cas (CRISPR-associated) system of bacteria and archaea constitutes a mechanism of acquired adaptive immunity against phages, which is based on genome-encoded markers of previously infecting phage sequences (“spacers”). As a repository of phage sequences, these spacers make the system particularly suitable for elucidating phage-bacteria interactions in metagenomic studies. Recent metagenomic analyses of CRISPRs associated with the human microbiome intriguingly revealed conserved “memory spacers” shared by bacteria in multiple unrelated, geographically separated individuals. Here, we discuss possible avenues for explaining this phenomenon by integrating insights from CRISPR biology and phage-bacteria ecology, with a special focus on the human gut. We further explore the growing body of evidence for the role of CRISPR/Cas in regulating the interplay between bacteria and lysogenic phages, which may be intimately related to the presence of memory spacers and sheds new light on the multifaceted biological and ecological modes of action of CRISPR/Cas.
doi:10.4161/rna.23929
PMCID: PMC3737347  PMID: 23439321
CRISPR; human gut; human microbiome; phages; lysogeny; prophages
4.  In defense of phage 
RNA Biology  2013;10(5):886-890.
Viruses that infect bacteria are the most abundant biological agents on the planet and bacteria have evolved diverse defense mechanisms to combat these genetic parasites. One of these bacterial defense systems relies on a repetitive locus, referred to as a CRISPR (clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats). Bacteria and archaea acquire resistance to invading viruses and plasmids by integrating short fragments of foreign nucleic acids at one end of the CRISPR locus. CRISPR loci are transcribed and the long primary CRISPR transcript is processed into a library of small RNAs that guide the immune system to invading nucleic acids, which are subsequently degraded by dedicated nucleases. However, the development of CRISPR-mediated immune systems has not eradicated phages, suggesting that viruses have evolved mechanisms to subvert CRISPR-mediated protection. Recently, Bondy-Denomy and colleagues discovered several phage-encoded anti-CRISPR proteins that offer new insight into the ongoing molecular arms race between viral parasites and the immune systems of their hosts.
doi:10.4161/rna.23591
PMCID: PMC3737345  PMID: 23392292
phage; bacterial immunity; RNA-guided immunity; anti-CRISPR; viral suppressors of RNAi (VSR); viral suppressors of CRISPR (VSC)
5.  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
6.  CRISPR-mediated defense mechanisms in the hyperthermophilic archaeal genus Sulfolobus 
RNA Biology  2013;10(5):671-678.
CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)-mediated virus defense based on small RNAs is a hallmark of archaea and also found in many bacteria. Archaeal genomes and, in particular, organisms of the extremely thermoacidophilic genus Sulfolobus, carry extensive CRISPR loci each with dozens of sequence signatures (spacers) able to mediate targeting and degradation of complementary invading nucleic acids. The diversity of CRISPR systems and their associated protein complexes indicates an extensive functional breadth and versatility of this adaptive immune system. Sulfolobus solfataricus and S. islandicus represent two of the best characterized genetic model organisms in the archaea not only with respect to the CRISPR system. Here we address and discuss in a broader context particularly recent progress made in understanding spacer recruitment from foreign DNA, production of small RNAs, in vitro activity of CRISPR-associated protein complexes and attack of viruses and plasmids in in vivo test systems.
doi:10.4161/rna.24154
PMCID: PMC3737324  PMID: 23535277
Sulfolobales; archaea; virus defense; CRISPR-Cas system; small RNAs
7.  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
8.  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.
doi:10.1074/jbc.M112.377002
PMCID: PMC3460438  PMID: 22767603
Archaea; Microbiology; RNA; RNA Metabolism; RNA Processing; CRISPR/Cas; Haloferax volcanii; PAM
9.  Crass: identification and reconstruction of CRISPR from unassembled metagenomic data 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(10):e105.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) constitute a bacterial and archaeal adaptive immune system that protect against bacteriophage (phage). Analysis of CRISPR loci reveals the history of phage infections and provides a direct link between phage and their hosts. All current tools for CRISPR identification have been developed to analyse completed genomes and are not well suited to the analysis of metagenomic data sets, where CRISPR loci are difficult to assemble owing to their repetitive structure and population heterogeneity. Here, we introduce a new algorithm, Crass, which is designed to identify and reconstruct CRISPR loci from raw metagenomic data without the need for assembly or prior knowledge of CRISPR in the data set. CRISPR in assembled data are often fragmented across many contigs/scaffolds and do not fully represent the population heterogeneity of CRISPR loci. Crass identified substantially more CRISPR in metagenomes previously analysed using assembly-based approaches. Using Crass, we were able to detect CRISPR that contained spacers with sequence homology to phage in the system, which would not have been identified using other approaches. The increased sensitivity, specificity and speed of Crass will facilitate comprehensive analysis of CRISPRs in metagenomic data sets, increasing our understanding of phage-host interactions and co-evolution within microbial communities.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkt183
PMCID: PMC3664793  PMID: 23511966
10.  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
11.  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
12.  CRISPR loci reveal networks of gene exchange in archaea 
Biology Direct  2011;6:65.
Background
CRISPR (Clustered, Regularly, Interspaced, Short, Palindromic Repeats) loci provide prokaryotes with an adaptive immunity against viruses and other mobile genetic elements. CRISPR arrays can be transcribed and processed into small crRNA molecules, which are then used by the cell to target the foreign nucleic acid. Since spacers are accumulated by active CRISPR/Cas systems, the sequences of these spacers provide a record of the past "infection history" of the organism.
Results
Here we analyzed all currently known spacers present in archaeal genomes and identified their source by DNA similarity. While nearly 50% of archaeal spacers matched mobile genetic elements, such as plasmids or viruses, several others matched chromosomal genes of other organisms, primarily other archaea. Thus, networks of gene exchange between archaeal species were revealed by the spacer analysis, including many cases of inter-genus and inter-species gene transfer events. Spacers that recognize viral sequences tend to be located further away from the leader sequence, implying that there exists a selective pressure for their retention.
Conclusions
CRISPR spacers provide direct evidence for extensive gene exchange in archaea, especially within genera, and support the current dogma where the primary role of the CRISPR/Cas system is anti-viral and anti-plasmid defense.
Open peer review
This article was reviewed by: Profs. W. Ford Doolittle, John van der Oost, Christa Schleper (nominated by board member Prof. J Peter Gogarten)
doi:10.1186/1745-6150-6-65
PMCID: PMC3285040  PMID: 22188759
CRISPR; Lateral Gene transfer; Horizontal gene transfer; viruses; archaea; competence
13.  Diversity, Activity, and Evolution of CRISPR Loci in Streptococcus thermophilus▿ † 
Journal of Bacteriology  2007;190(4):1401-1412.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) are hypervariable loci widely distributed in prokaryotes that provide acquired immunity against foreign genetic elements. Here, we characterize a novel Streptococcus thermophilus locus, CRISPR3, and experimentally demonstrate its ability to integrate novel spacers in response to bacteriophage. Also, we analyze CRISPR diversity and activity across three distinct CRISPR loci in several S. thermophilus strains. We show that both CRISPR repeats and cas genes are locus specific and functionally coupled. A total of 124 strains were studied, and 109 unique spacer arrangements were observed across the three CRISPR loci. Overall, 3,626 spacers were analyzed, including 2,829 for CRISPR1 (782 unique), 173 for CRISPR2 (16 unique), and 624 for CRISPR3 (154 unique). Sequence analysis of the spacers revealed homology and identity to phage sequences (77%), plasmid sequences (16%), and S. thermophilus chromosomal sequences (7%). Polymorphisms were observed for the CRISPR repeats, CRISPR spacers, cas genes, CRISPR motif, locus architecture, and specific sequence content. Interestingly, CRISPR loci evolved both via polarized addition of novel spacers after exposure to foreign genetic elements and via internal deletion of spacers. We hypothesize that the level of diversity is correlated with relative CRISPR activity and propose that the activity is highest for CRISPR1, followed by CRISPR3, while CRISPR2 may be degenerate. Globally, the dynamic nature of CRISPR loci might prove valuable for typing and comparative analyses of strains and microbial populations. Also, CRISPRs provide critical insights into the relationships between prokaryotes and their environments, notably the coevolution of host and viral genomes.
doi:10.1128/JB.01415-07
PMCID: PMC2238196  PMID: 18065539
14.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003454
PMCID: PMC3630108  PMID: 23637624
15.  Diversity, Evolution, and Functionality of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) Regions in the Fire Blight Pathogen Erwinia amylovora▿† 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(11):3819-3829.
The clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)/Cas system confers acquired heritable immunity against mobile nucleic acid elements in prokaryotes, limiting phage infection and horizontal gene transfer of plasmids. In CRISPR arrays, characteristic repeats are interspersed with similarly sized nonrepetitive spacers derived from transmissible genetic elements and acquired when the cell is challenged with foreign DNA. New spacers are added sequentially and the number and type of CRISPR units can differ among strains, providing a record of phage/plasmid exposure within a species and giving a valuable typing tool. The aim of this work was to investigate CRISPR diversity in the highly homogeneous species Erwinia amylovora, the causal agent of fire blight. A total of 18 CRISPR genotypes were defined within a collection of 37 cosmopolitan strains. Strains from Spiraeoideae plants clustered in three major groups: groups II and III were composed exclusively of bacteria originating from the United States, whereas group I generally contained strains of more recent dissemination obtained in Europe, New Zealand, and the Middle East. Strains from Rosoideae and Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica) clustered separately and displayed a higher intrinsic diversity than that of isolates from Spiraeoideae plants. Reciprocal exclusion was generally observed between plasmid content and cognate spacer sequences, supporting the role of the CRISPR/Cas system in protecting against foreign DNA elements. However, in several group III strains, retention of plasmid pEU30 is inconsistent with a functional CRISPR/Cas system.
doi:10.1128/AEM.00177-11
PMCID: PMC3127596  PMID: 21460108
16.  Evolution and classification of the CRISPR-Cas systems 
Nature Reviews. Microbiology  2011;9(6):467-477.
The CRISPR–Cas (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats–CRISPR-associated proteins) modules are adaptive immunity systems that are present in many archaea and bacteria. These defence systems are encoded by operons that have an extraordinarily diverse architecture and a high rate of evolution for both the cas genes and the unique spacer content. Here, we provide an updated analysis of the evolutionary relationships between CRISPR–Cas systems and Cas proteins. Three major types of CRISPR–Cas system are delineated, with a further division into several subtypes and a few chimeric variants. Given the complexity of the genomic architectures and the extremely dynamic evolution of the CRISPR–Cas systems, a unified classification of these systems should be based on multiple criteria. Accordingly, we propose a `polythetic' classification that integrates the phylogenies of the most common cas genes, the sequence and organization of the CRISPR repeats and the architecture of the CRISPR–cas loci.
doi:10.1038/nrmicro2577
PMCID: PMC3380444  PMID: 21552286
17.  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
18.  Phage Response to CRISPR-Encoded Resistance in Streptococcus thermophilus▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2007;190(4):1390-1400.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and their associated genes are linked to a mechanism of acquired resistance against bacteriophages. Bacteria can integrate short stretches of phage-derived sequences (spacers) within CRISPR loci to become phage resistant. In this study, we further characterized the efficiency of CRISPR1 as a phage resistance mechanism in Streptococcus thermophilus. First, we show that CRISPR1 is distinct from previously known phage defense systems and is effective against the two main groups of S. thermophilus phages. Analyses of 30 bacteriophage-insensitive mutants of S. thermophilus indicate that the addition of one new spacer in CRISPR1 is the most frequent outcome of a phage challenge and that the iterative addition of spacers increases the overall phage resistance of the host. The added new spacers have a size of between 29 to 31 nucleotides, with 30 being by far the most frequent. Comparative analysis of 39 newly acquired spacers with the complete genomic sequences of the wild-type phages 2972, 858, and DT1 demonstrated that the newly added spacer must be identical to a region (named proto-spacer) in the phage genome to confer a phage resistance phenotype. Moreover, we found a CRISPR1-specific sequence (NNAGAAW) located downstream of the proto-spacer region that is important for the phage resistance phenotype. Finally, we show through the analyses of 20 mutant phages that virulent phages are rapidly evolving through single nucleotide mutations as well as deletions, in response to CRISPR1.
doi:10.1128/JB.01412-07
PMCID: PMC2238228  PMID: 18065545
19.  Evolutionary conservation of sequence and secondary structures in CRISPR repeats 
Genome Biology  2007;8(4):R61.
The categorisation and structural analysis of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPRs) sequences from 195 microbial genomes show that repeats from diverse organisms can be grouped based on sequence similarity, and that some groups have pronounced secondary structures with compensatory base changes.
Background
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) are a novel class of direct repeats, separated by unique spacer sequences of similar length, that are present in approximately 40% of bacterial and most archaeal genomes analyzed to date. More than 40 gene families, called CRISPR-associated sequences (CASs), appear in conjunction with these repeats and are thought to be involved in the propagation and functioning of CRISPRs. It has been recently shown that CRISPR provides acquired resistance against viruses in prokaryotes.
Results
Here we analyze CRISPR repeats identified in 195 microbial genomes and show that they can be organized into multiple clusters based on sequence similarity. Some of the clusters present stable, highly conserved RNA secondary structures, while others lack detectable structures. Stable secondary structures exhibit multiple compensatory base changes in the stem region, indicating evolutionary and functional conservation.
Conclusion
We show that the repeat-based classification corresponds to, and expands upon, a previously reported CAS gene-based classification, including specific relationships between CRISPR and CAS subtypes.
doi:10.1186/gb-2007-8-4-r61
PMCID: PMC1896005  PMID: 17442114
20.  Insight into Microevolution of Yersinia pestis by Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(7):e2652.
Background
Yersinia pestis, the pathogen of plague, has greatly influenced human history on a global scale. Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR), an element participating in immunity against phages' invasion, is composed of short repeated sequences separated by unique spacers and provides the basis of the spoligotyping technology. In the present research, three CRISPR loci were analyzed in 125 strains of Y. pestis from 26 natural plague foci of China, the former Soviet Union and Mongolia were analyzed, for validating CRISPR-based genotyping method and better understanding adaptive microevolution of Y. pestis.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Using PCR amplification, sequencing and online data processing, a high degree of genetic diversity was revealed in all three CRISPR elements. The distribution of spacers and their arrays in Y. pestis strains is strongly region and focus-specific, allowing the construction of a hypothetic evolutionary model of Y. pestis. This model suggests transmission route of microtus strains that encircled Takla Makan Desert and ZhunGer Basin. Starting from Tadjikistan, one branch passed through the Kunlun Mountains, and moved to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Another branch went north via the Pamirs Plateau, the Tianshan Mountains, the Altai Mountains and the Inner Mongolian Plateau. Other Y. pestis lineages might be originated from certain areas along those routes.
Conclusions/significance
CRISPR can provide important information for genotyping and evolutionary research of bacteria, which will help to trace the source of outbreaks. The resulting data will make possible the development of very low cost and high-resolution assays for the systematic typing of any new isolate.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002652
PMCID: PMC2440536  PMID: 18612419
21.  CRISPR/Cas9-Mediated Phage Resistance Is Not Impeded by the DNA Modifications of Phage T4 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e98811.
Bacteria rely on two known DNA-level defenses against their bacteriophage predators: restriction-modification and Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)-CRISPR-associated (Cas) systems. Certain phages have evolved countermeasures that are known to block endonucleases. For example, phage T4 not only adds hydroxymethyl groups to all of its cytosines, but also glucosylates them, a strategy that defeats almost all restriction enzymes. We sought to determine whether these DNA modifications can similarly impede CRISPR-based defenses. In a bioinformatics search, we found naturally occurring CRISPR spacers that potentially target phages known to modify their DNA. Experimentally, we show that the Cas9 nuclease from the Type II CRISPR system of Streptococcus pyogenes can overcome a variety of DNA modifications in Escherichia coli. The levels of Cas9-mediated phage resistance to bacteriophage T4 and the mutant phage T4 gt, which contains hydroxymethylated but not glucosylated cytosines, were comparable to phages with unmodified cytosines, T7 and the T4-like phage RB49. Our results demonstrate that Cas9 is not impeded by N6-methyladenine, 5-methylcytosine, 5-hydroxymethylated cytosine, or glucosylated 5-hydroxymethylated cytosine.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0098811
PMCID: PMC4041780  PMID: 24886988
22.  In Vivo Protein Interactions and Complex Formation in the Pectobacterium atrosepticum Subtype I-F CRISPR/Cas System 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e49549.
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) and their associated proteins (Cas; CRISPR associated) are a bacterial defense mechanism against extra-chromosomal elements. CRISPR/Cas systems are distinct from other known defense mechanisms insofar as they provide acquired and heritable immunity. Resistance is accomplished in multiple stages in which the Cas proteins provide the enzymatic machinery. Importantly, subtype-specific proteins have been shown to form complexes in combination with small RNAs, which enable sequence-specific targeting of foreign nucleic acids. We used Pectobacterium atrosepticum, a plant pathogen that causes soft-rot and blackleg disease in potato, to investigate protein-protein interactions and complex formation in the subtype I-F CRISPR/Cas system. The P. atrosepticum CRISPR/Cas system encodes six proteins: Cas1, Cas3, and the four subtype specific proteins Csy1, Csy2, Csy3 and Cas6f (Csy4). Using co-purification followed by mass spectrometry as well as directed co-immunoprecipitation we have demonstrated complex formation by the Csy1-3 and Cas6f proteins, and determined details about the architecture of that complex. Cas3 was also shown to co-purify all four subtype-specific proteins, consistent with its role in targeting. Furthermore, our results show that the subtype I-F Cas1 and Cas3 (a Cas2-Cas3 hybrid) proteins interact, suggesting a protein complex for adaptation and a role for subtype I-F Cas3 proteins in both the adaptation and interference steps of the CRISPR/Cas mechanism.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049549
PMCID: PMC3513311  PMID: 23226499
23.  Evolution of CRISPR RNA recognition and processing by Cas6 endonucleases 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;42(2):1341-1353.
In many bacteria and archaea, small RNAs derived from clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) associate with CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins to target foreign DNA for destruction. In Type I and III CRISPR/Cas systems, the Cas6 family of endoribonucleases generates functional CRISPR-derived RNAs by site-specific cleavage of repeat sequences in precursor transcripts. CRISPR repeats differ widely in both sequence and structure, with varying propensity to form hairpin folds immediately preceding the cleavage site. To investigate the evolution of distinct mechanisms for the recognition of diverse CRISPR repeats by Cas6 enzymes, we determined crystal structures of two Thermus thermophilus Cas6 enzymes both alone and bound to substrate and product RNAs. These structures show how the scaffold common to all Cas6 endonucleases has evolved two binding sites with distinct modes of RNA recognition: one specific for a hairpin fold and the other for a single-stranded 5′-terminal segment preceding the hairpin. These findings explain how divergent Cas6 enzymes have emerged to mediate highly selective pre-CRISPR-derived RNA processing across diverse CRISPR systems.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkt922
PMCID: PMC3902920  PMID: 24150936
24.  Target Motifs Affecting Natural Immunity by a Constitutive CRISPR-Cas System in Escherichia coli 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e50797.
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR associated (cas) genes conform the CRISPR-Cas systems of various bacteria and archaea and produce degradation of invading nucleic acids containing sequences (protospacers) that are complementary to repeat intervening spacers. It has been demonstrated that the base sequence identity of a protospacer with the cognate spacer and the presence of a protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) influence CRISPR-mediated interference efficiency. By using an original transformation assay with plasmids targeted by a resident spacer here we show that natural CRISPR-mediated immunity against invading DNA occurs in wild type Escherichia coli. Unexpectedly, the strongest activity is observed with protospacer adjoining nucleotides (interference motifs) that differ from the PAM both in sequence and location. Hence, our results document for the first time native CRISPR activity in E. coli and demonstrate that positions next to the PAM in invading DNA influence their recognition and degradation by these prokaryotic immune systems.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050797
PMCID: PMC3506596  PMID: 23189210
25.  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

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