CRISPR/Cas systems constitute a widespread class of immunity systems that protect bacteria and archaea against phages and plasmids, and commonly use repeat/spacer-derived short crRNAs to silence foreign nucleic acids in a sequence-specific manner. Although the maturation of crRNAs represents a key event in CRISPR activation, the responsible endoribonucleases (CasE, Cas6, Csy4) are missing in many CRISPR/Cas subtypes. Here, differential RNA sequencing of the human pathogen Streptococcus pyogenes uncovered tracrRNA, a trans-encoded small RNA with 24 nucleotide complementarity to the repeat regions of crRNA precursor transcripts. We show that tracrRNA directs the maturation of crRNAs by the activities of the widely conserved endogenous RNase III and the CRISPR-associated Csn1 protein; all these components are essential to protect S. pyogenes against prophage-derived DNA. Our study reveals a novel pathway of small guide RNA maturation and the first example of a host factor (RNase III) required for bacterial RNA-mediated immunity against invaders.
Phages are the most abundant biological entities on earth and pose a constant challenge to their bacterial hosts. Thus, bacteria have evolved numerous ‘innate’ mechanisms of defense against phage, such as abortive infection or restriction/modification systems. In contrast, the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) systems provide acquired, yet heritable, sequence-specific ‘adaptive’ immunity against phage and other horizontally-acquired elements, such as plasmids. Resistance is acquired following viral infection or plasmid uptake when a short sequence of the foreign genome is added to the CRISPR array. CRISPRs are then transcribed and processed, generally by CRISPR associated (Cas) proteins, into short interfering RNAs (crRNAs), which form part of a ribonucleoprotein complex. This complex guides the crRNA to the complementary invading nucleic acid and targets this for degradation. Recently, there have been rapid advances in our understanding of CRISPR/Cas systems. In this review, we will present the current model(s) of the molecular events involved in both the acquisition of immunity and interference stages and will also address recent progress in our knowledge of the regulation of CRISPR/Cas systems.
phages; plasmids; horizontal gene transfer; CRISPR; Cas; cascade; PAM; crRNA; resistance
CRISPR-Cas systems are RNA-guided immune systems that protect prokaryotes against viruses and other invaders. The CRISPR locus encodes crRNAs that recognize invading nucleic acid sequences and trigger silencing by the associated Cas proteins. There are multiple CRISPR-Cas systems with distinct compositions and mechanistic processes. Thermococcus kodakarensis (Tko) is a hyperthermophilic euryarchaeon that has both a Type I-A Csa and a Type I-B Cst CRISPR-Cas system. We have analyzed the expression and composition of crRNAs from the three CRISPRs in Tko by RNA deep sequencing and northern analysis. Our results indicate that crRNAs associated with these two CRISPR-Cas systems include an 8-nucleotide conserved sequence tag at the 5′ end. We challenged Tko with plasmid invaders containing sequences targeted by endogenous crRNAs and observed active CRISPR-Cas-mediated silencing. Plasmid silencing was dependent on complementarity with a crRNA as well as on a sequence element found immediately adjacent to the crRNA recognition site in the target termed the PAM (protospacer adjacent motif). Silencing occurred independently of the orientation of the target sequence in the plasmid, and appears to occur at the DNA level, presumably via DNA degradation. In addition, we have directed silencing of an invader plasmid by genetically engineering the chromosomal CRISPR locus to express customized crRNAs directed against the plasmid. Our results support CRISPR engineering as a feasible approach to develop prokaryotic strains that are resistant to infection for use in industry.
CRISPR; Cas; archaea; Thermococcus; hyperthermophile; immune; RNA; DNA; silencing; interference
CRISPR/Cas (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats/CRISPR associated sequences) is a recently discovered prokaryotic defense system against foreign DNA, including viruses and plasmids. CRISPR cassette is transcribed as a continuous transcript (pre-crRNA), which is processed by Cas proteins into small RNA molecules (crRNAs) that are responsible for defense against invading viruses. Experiments in E. coli report that overexpression of cas genes generates a large number of crRNAs, from only few pre-crRNAs.
We here develop a minimal model of CRISPR processing, which we parameterize based on available experimental data. From the model, we show that the system can generate a large amount of crRNAs, based on only a small decrease in the amount of pre-crRNAs. The relationship between the decrease of pre-crRNAs and the increase of crRNAs corresponds to strong linear amplification. Interestingly, this strong amplification crucially depends on fast non-specific degradation of pre-crRNA by an unidentified nuclease. We show that overexpression of cas genes above a certain level does not result in further increase of crRNA, but that this saturation can be relieved if the rate of CRISPR transcription is increased. We furthermore show that a small increase of CRISPR transcription rate can substantially decrease the extent of cas gene activation necessary to achieve a desired amount of crRNA.
The simple mathematical model developed here is able to explain existing experimental observations on CRISPR transcript processing in Escherichia coli. The model shows that a competition between specific pre-crRNA processing and non-specific degradation determines the steady-state levels of crRNA and is responsible for strong linear amplification of crRNAs when cas genes are overexpressed. The model further shows how disappearance of only a few pre-crRNA molecules normally present in the cell can lead to a large (two orders of magnitude) increase of crRNAs upon cas overexpression. A crucial ingredient of this large increase is fast non-specific degradation by an unspecified nuclease, which suggests that a yet unidentified nuclease(s) is a major control element of CRISPR response. Transcriptional regulation may be another important control mechanism, as it can either increase the amount of generated pre-crRNA, or alter the level of cas gene activity.
This article was reviewed by Mikhail Gelfand, Eugene Koonin and L Aravind.
CRISPR/Cas; Transcript processing; Small RNA; CRISPR expression regulation; CRISPR/Cas response
In Drosophila, Piwi proteins associate with Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) and protect the germline genome by silencing mobile genetic elements. This defense system acts in germline and gonadal somatic tissue to preserve germline development. Genetic control for these silencing pathways varies greatly between tissues of the gonad. Here, we identified Vreteno (Vret), a novel gonad-specific protein essential for germline development. Vret is required for piRNA-based transposon regulation in both germline and somatic gonadal tissues. We show that Vret, which contains Tudor domains, associates physically with Piwi and Aubergine (Aub), stabilizing these proteins via a gonad-specific mechanism that is absent in other fly tissues. In the absence of vret, Piwi-bound piRNAs are lost without changes in piRNA precursor transcript production, supporting a role for Vret in primary piRNA biogenesis. In the germline, piRNAs can engage in an Aub- and Argonaute 3 (AGO3)-dependent amplification in the absence of Vret, suggesting that Vret function can distinguish between primary piRNAs loaded into Piwi-Aub complexes and piRNAs engaged in the amplification cycle. We propose that Vret plays an essential role in transposon regulation at an early stage of primary piRNA processing.
Germline stem cell; Soma; Transposon; Piwi; Aubergine; piRNAs; Tudor; Drosophila
CRISPR-Cas is a rapidly evolving RNA-mediated adaptive immune system that protects bacteria and archaea against mobile genetic elements. The system relies on the activity of short mature CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) that guide Cas protein(s) to silence invading nucleic acids. A set of CRISPR-Cas, type II, requires a trans-activating small RNA, tracrRNA, for maturation of precursor crRNA (pre-crRNA) and interference with invading sequences. Following co-processing of tracrRNA and pre-crRNA by RNase III, dual-tracrRNA:crRNA guides the CRISPR-associated endonuclease Cas9 (Csn1) to cleave site-specifically cognate target DNA. Here, we screened available genomes for type II CRISPR-Cas loci by searching for Cas9 orthologs. We analyzed 75 representative loci, and for 56 of them we predicted novel tracrRNA orthologs. Our analysis demonstrates a high diversity in cas operon architecture and position of the tracrRNA gene within CRISPR-Cas loci. We observed a correlation between locus heterogeneity and Cas9 sequence diversity, resulting in the identification of various type II CRISPR-Cas subgroups. We validated the expression and co-processing of predicted tracrRNAs and pre-crRNAs by RNA sequencing in five bacterial species. This study reveals tracrRNA family as an atypical, small RNA family with no obvious conservation of structure, sequence or localization within type II CRISPR-Cas loci. The tracrRNA family is however characterized by the conserved feature to base-pair to cognate pre-crRNA repeats, an essential function for crRNA maturation and DNA silencing by dual-RNA:Cas9. The large panel of tracrRNA and Cas9 ortholog sequences should constitute a useful database to improve the design of RNA-programmable Cas9 as genome editing tool.
tracrRNA; CRISPR-Cas; type II system; Cas9 (Csn1); RNA processing; RNA maturation; small non-coding RNA; bacteria; adaptive immunity; mobile genetic elements
The Cutoff protein regulates piRNA cluster expression and piRNA production in the Drosophila germline
The identity and function of many factors involved in the piRNA pathway remain unknown. Here, in Drosophila, cutoff plays a role in regulating piRNA cluster transcript levels and biogenesis together with the heterochromatin protein Rhino.
In a broad range of organisms, Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) have emerged as core components of a surveillance system that protects the genome by silencing transposable and repetitive elements. A vast proportion of piRNAs is produced from discrete genomic loci, termed piRNA clusters, which are generally embedded in heterochromatic regions. The molecular mechanisms and the factors that govern their expression are largely unknown. Here, we show that Cutoff (Cuff), a Drosophila protein related to the yeast transcription termination factor Rai1, is essential for piRNA production in germline tissues. Cuff accumulates at centromeric/pericentromeric positions in germ-cell nuclei and strongly colocalizes with the major heterochromatic domains. Remarkably, we show that Cuff is enriched at the dual-strand piRNA cluster 1/42AB and is likely to be involved in regulation of transcript levels of similar loci dispersed in the genome. Consistent with this observation, Cuff physically interacts with the Heterochromatin Protein 1 (HP1) variant Rhino (Rhi). Our results unveil a link between Cuff activity, heterochromatin assembly and piRNA cluster expression, which is critical for stem-cell and germ-cell development in Drosophila.
cutoff; Drosophila; germline; heterochromatin; piRNA
The prokaryotic adaptive immune system is based on the incorporation of genome fragments of invading viral genetic elements into clusters of regulatory interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs). The CRISPR loci are transcribed and processed into crRNAs, which are then used to target the invading nucleic acid for degradation. The large family of CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins mediates this interference response. We have characterized Methanopyrus kandleri Csm3, a protein of the type III-A CRISPR-Cas complex. The 2.4 Å resolution crystal structure shows an elaborate four-domain fold organized around a core RRM-like domain. The overall architecture highlights the structural homology to Cas7, the Cas protein that forms the backbone of type I interference complexes. Csm3 binds unstructured RNAs in a sequence non-specific manner, suggesting that it interacts with the variable spacer sequence of the crRNA. The structural and biochemical data provide insights into the similarities and differences in this group of Cas proteins.
RAMP; RRM domain; ferredoxin domain; Cas7; adaptive immunity
Because of the mutagenic consequences of mobile genetic elements, elaborate defenses have evolved to restrict their activity. A major system that controls the activity of transposable elements (TEs) in flies and vertebrates is mediated by Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs), which are ~24–30 nucleotide RNAs that are bound by Piwi-class effectors. The piRNA system is thought to provide primarily a germline defense against TE activity.
Here, we describe a second system that represses Drosophila TEs by using endogenous small interfering RNAs (si RNAs), which are 21 nucleotide, 3′-end-modified RNAs that are dependent on Dicer-2 and Argonaute-2. In contrast to piRNAs, we find that the TE-siRNA system is active in somatic tissues, and particularly so in various immortalized cell lines. Analysis of the patterns and properties of TE-derived small RNAs reveals further distinctions between TE regions and genomic loci that are converted into piRNAs and siRNAs, respectively. Finally, functional tests show that many transposon transcripts accumulate to higher levels in cells and animal tissues that are deficient for Dicer-2 or Argonaute-2.
Drosophila utilizes two small-RNA systems to restrict transposon activity in the germline (mostly via piRNAs) and in the soma (mostly via siRNAs).
Piwi Argonautes and Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) mediate genome defense by targeting transposons. However, many piRNA species lack obvious sequence complementarity to transposons or other loci; only one C. elegans transposon is a known piRNA target. Here we show that, in mutants lacking the Piwi Argonaute PRG-1 (and consequently its associated piRNAs/21U-RNAs), many silent loci in the germline exhibit increased levels of mRNA expression and depletion of an amplified RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRP)-derived species of small secondary RNA termed 22G-RNAs. Sequences depleted of 22G-RNAs are enriched at nearby potential target sites that base pair imperfectly but extensively to 21U-RNAs. We show that PRG-1 is required to initiate, but not to maintain, silencing of transgenes engineered to contain complementarity to endogenous 21U-RNAs. Our findings support a model in which C. elegans piRNAs utilize their enormous repertoire of targeting capacity to scan the germline transcriptome for foreign sequences, while endogenous germline-expressed genes are actively protected from piRNA-induced silencing.
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.
phage; bacterial immunity; RNA-guided immunity; anti-CRISPR; viral suppressors of RNAi (VSR); viral suppressors of CRISPR (VSC)
Prokaryotes have developed several strategies to defend themselves against foreign genetic elements. One of those defense mechanisms is the recently identified CRISPR/Cas system, which is used by approximately half of all bacterial and almost all archaeal organisms. The CRISPR/Cas system differs from the other defense strategies because it is adaptive, hereditary and it recognizes the invader by a sequence specific mechanism. To identify the invading foreign nucleic acid, a crRNA that matches the invader DNA is required, as well as a short sequence motif called protospacer adjacent motif (PAM). We recently identified the PAM sequences for the halophilic archaeon Haloferax volcanii, and found that several motifs were active in triggering the defense reaction. In contrast, selection of protospacers from the invader seems to be based on fewer PAM sequences, as evidenced by comparative sequence data. This suggests that the selection of protospacers has stricter requirements than the defense reaction. Comparison of CRISPR-repeat sequences carried by sequenced haloarchaea revealed that in more than half of the species, the repeat sequence is conserved and that they have the same CRISPR/Cas type.
Haloferax volcanii; CRISPR/Cas; PAM; archaea; prokaryotic immune system; haloarchaea
PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are germline-specific small non-coding RNAs that form piRNA-induced silencing complexes (piRISCs) by associating with PIWI proteins, a subclade of the Argonaute proteins predominantly expressed in the germline. piRISCs protect the integrity of the germline genome from invasive transposable DNA elements by silencing them. Multiple piRNA biogenesis factors have been identified in Drosophila. The majority of piRNA factors are localized in the nuage, electron-dense non-membranous cytoplasmic structures located in the perinuclear regions of germ cells. Thus, piRNA biogenesis is thought to occur in the nuage in germ cells. Immunofluorescence analyses of ovaries from piRNA factor mutants have revealed a localization hierarchy of piRNA factors in female nuage. However, whether this hierarchy is female-specific or can also be applied in male gonads remains undetermined. Here, we show by immunostaining of both ovaries and testes from piRNA factor mutants that the molecular hierarchy of piRNA factors shows gender-specificity, especially for Krimper (Krimp), a Tudor-domain-containing protein of unknown function(s): Krimp is dispensable for PIWI protein Aubergine (Aub) nuage localization in ovaries but Krimp and Aub require each other for their proper nuage localization in testes. This suggests that the functional requirement of Krimp in piRNA biogenesis may be different in male and female gonads.
nuage; piRNA; PIWI; Drosophila; germline
Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are a recently discovered class of 24- to 30-nt noncoding RNAs whose best-understood function is to repress transposable elements (TEs) in animal germ lines. In humans, TE-derived sequences comprise ∼45% of the genome and there are several active TE families, including LINE-1 and Alu elements, which are a significant source of de novo mutations and intrapopulation variability. In the “ping-pong model,” piRNAs are thought to alternatively cleave sense and antisense TE transcripts in a positive feedback loop. Because piRNAs are poorly conserved between closely related species, including human and chimpanzee, we took a population genomics approach to study piRNA function and evolution. We found strong statistical evidence that piRNA sequences are under selective constraint in African populations. We then mapped the piRNA sequences to human TE sequences and found strong correlations between the age of each LINE-1 and Alu subfamily and the number of piRNAs mapping to the subfamily. This result supports the idea that piRNAs function as repressors of TEs in humans. Finally, we observed a significant depletion of piRNA matches in the reverse transcriptase region of the consensus human LINE-1 element but not of the consensus mouse LINE-1 element. This result suggests that reverse transcriptase might have an endogenous role specific to humans. Overall, our results elucidate the function and evolution of piRNAs in humans and highlight the utility of population genomics analysis for studying this rapidly evolving genetic system.
piRNAs; transposable elements; population genetics; selective constraint; Africans
CRISPR (cluster of regularly interspaced palindromic repeats) is a prokaryotic adaptive defence system, providing immunity against mobile genetic elements such as viruses. Genomically encoded crRNA (CRISPR RNA) is used by Cas (CRISPR-associated) proteins to target and subsequently degrade nucleic acids of invading entities in a sequence-dependent manner. The process is known as ‘interference’. In the present review we cover recent progress on the structural biology of the CRISPR/Cas system, focusing on the Cas proteins and complexes that catalyse crRNA biogenesis and interference. Structural studies have helped in the elucidation of key mechanisms, including the recognition and cleavage of crRNA by the Cas6 and Cas5 proteins, where remarkable diversity at the level of both substrate recognition and catalysis has become apparent. The RNA-binding RAMP (repeat-associated mysterious protein) domain is present in the Cas5, Cas6, Cas7 and Cmr3 protein families and RAMP-like domains are found in Cas2 and Cas10. Structural analysis has also revealed an evolutionary link between the small subunits of the type I and type III-B interference complexes. Future studies of the interference complexes and their constituent components will transform our understanding of the system.
antiviral defence; cluster of regularly interspaced palindromic repeats (CRISPR); crystallography; evolution; protein structure; repeat-associated mysterious protein (RAMP); BhCas5c, Bacillus halodurans Cas5c; CRISPR, cluster of regularly interspaced palindromic repeats; Cas, CRISPR-associated; Cascade, CRISPR-associated complex for antiviral defence; crRNA, CRISPR RNA; dsDNA, double-stranded DNA; EcoCas3, Escherichia coli Cas3; EM, electron microscopy; HD, histidine–aspartate; MjaCas3″, Methanocaldococcus jannaschii Cas3″; PaCas6f, Pseudomonas aeruginosa Cas6f; PAM, protospacer adjacent motif; PfuCas, Pyrococcus furiosus Cas; pre-crRNA, precursor crRNA; RAMP, repeat-associated mysterious protein; RRM, RNA recognition motif; ssDNA, single-stranded DNA; SsoCas, Sulfolobus solfataricus Cas; ssRNA, single-stranded RNA; SthCas3, Streptococcus thermophilus Cas3; tracrRNA, trans-activating crRNA; TtCas, Thermus thermophilus Cas
Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are a recently discovered class of small non-coding RNA found in animals. PiRNAs are primarily expressed in the germline where their best understood function is to repress transposable elements. Unlike previous studies that investigated the evolution of piRNA-generating loci at the level of nucleotide substitutions, here we studied the evolution of piRNA-generating loci at the level of copy number variation (i.e. duplications and deletions) using genome-wide copy number variation data from three human populations. Our analysis shows that at the level of copy number variation there is strong selective constraint and a very high mutation rate in human piRNA-generating loci. Our results differ from a model of positive selection on copy number variation in piRNA-generating loci previously proposed in rodents. We discuss possible reasons for this difference based on the transposable element insertion histories in the rodent and primate lineages.
To fend off foreign genetic elements, prokaryotes have developed several defense systems. The most recently discovered defense system, CRISPR/Cas, is sequence-specific, adaptive and heritable. The two central components of this system are the Cas proteins and the CRISPR RNA. The latter consists of repeat sequences that are interspersed with spacer sequences. The CRISPR locus is transcribed into a precursor RNA that is subsequently processed into short crRNAs. CRISPR/Cas systems have been identified in bacteria and archaea, and data show that many variations of this system exist. We analyzed the requirements for a successful defense reaction in the halophilic archaeon Haloferax volcanii. Haloferax encodes a CRISPR/Cas system of the I-B subtype, about which very little is known. Analysis of the mature crRNAs revealed that they contain a spacer as their central element, which is preceded by an eight-nucleotide-long 5′ handle that originates from the upstream repeat. The repeat sequences have the potential to fold into a minimal stem loop. Sequencing of the crRNA population indicated that not all of the spacers that are encoded by the three CRISPR loci are present in the same abundance. By challenging Haloferax with an invader plasmid, we demonstrated that the interaction of the crRNA with the invader DNA requires a 10-nucleotide-long seed sequence. In addition, we found that not all of the crRNAs from the three CRISPR loci are effective at triggering the degradation of invader plasmids. The interference does not seem to be influenced by the copy number of the invader plasmid.
archaea; Haloferax volcanii; CRISPR/Cas; crRNA; PAM; seed sequence
Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) fulfill a critical, conserved role in defending the genome against foreign genetic elements. In many organisms, piRNAs appear to be derived from processing of a long, polycistronic RNA precursor. Here, we establish that each Caenorhabditis elegans piRNA represents a tiny, autonomous transcriptional unit. Remarkably, the minimal C. elegans piRNA cassette requires only a 21 nucleotide (nt) piRNA sequence and an ∼50 nt upstream motif with limited genomic context for expression. Combining computational analyses with a novel, in vivo transgenic system, we demonstrate that this upstream motif is necessary for independent expression of a germline-enriched, Piwi-dependent piRNA. We further show that a single nucleotide position within this motif directs differential germline enrichment. Accordingly, over 70% of C. elegans piRNAs are selectively expressed in male or female germline, and comparison of the genes they target suggests that these two populations have evolved independently. Together, our results indicate that C. elegans piRNA upstream motifs act as independent promoters to specify which sequences are expressed as piRNAs, how abundantly they are expressed, and in what germline. As the genome encodes well over 15,000 unique piRNA sequences, our study reveals that the number of transcriptional units encoding piRNAs rivals the number of mRNA coding genes in the C. elegans genome.
Across the animal kingdom, Piwi-interacting small RNAs (piRNAs) protect genome integrity and promote fertility. While the functions of piRNAs are well-characterized, far less is known about how they are generated and how their expression is regulated. In the Caenorhabditis elegans genome, a conserved sequence motif lies upstream of many piRNA loci and appears to regulate their expression. We combined computational and experimental approaches to investigate the role of this motif in the expression of C. elegans piRNAs. We discovered that >70% of piRNAs are differentially enriched in male versus female germline, and these male and female piRNAs show different upstream motifs. Using a transgenic system for expressing synthetic piRNAs in vivo, we demonstrate that variation of a single nucleotide within this motif influences piRNA germline enrichment. We further show that the conserved motif is capable of driving piRNA expression in genomic isolation. Accordingly, the genomic distribution of these motifs determines which sequences are expressed as piRNAs in C. elegans. Our results suggest that each C. elegans piRNA represents an independent transcript whose sequence, abundance, and germline enrichment are encoded by a variant upstream motif, defining a novel modality for expression of piRNAs.
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.
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.
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)
CRISPR; Lateral Gene transfer; Horizontal gene transfer; viruses; archaea; competence
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.
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.
Piwi proteins, together with their bound Piwi-interacting RNAs, constitute an evolutionarily conserved, germline-specific innate immune system. The piRNA pathway is one of the key mechanisms for silencing transposable elements in the germline, thereby preserving genome integrity between generations. Recent work from several groups has significantly advanced our understanding of how piRNAs arise from discrete genomic loci, termed piRNA clusters, and how these Piwi-piRNA complexes enforce transposon silencing. Here, we discuss these recent findings, as well as highlight some aspects of piRNA biology that continue to escape our understanding.
Protecting the genome from transposable element (TE) mobilization is critical for germline development. In Drosophila, Piwi proteins and their bound small RNAs (piRNAs) provide a potent defense against TE activity. TE targeting piRNAs are processed from TE-dense heterochromatic loci termed ‘piRNA clusters’. While piRNA biogenesis from cluster precursors is beginning to be understood, little is known about piRNA cluster transcriptional regulation. Here we show that deposition of histone 3 lysine 9 by the methyltransferase dSETDB1 (egg) is required for piRNA cluster transcription. In the absence of dSETDB1, cluster precursor transcription collapses in germline and somatic gonadal cells and TEs are activated, resulting in germline loss and a block in germline stem cell differentiation. We propose that heterochromatin protects the germline by activating the piRNA pathway.
Prokaryotes immunize themselves against transmissible genetic elements by the integration (acquisition) in clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) loci of spacers homologous to invader nucleic acids, defined as protospacers. Following acquisition, mono-spacer CRISPR RNAs (termed crRNAs) guide CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins to degrade (interference) protospacers flanked by an adjacent motif in extrachomosomal DNA. During acquisition, selection of spacer-precursors adjoining the protospacer motif and proper orientation of the integrated fragment with respect to the leader (sequence leading transcription of the flanking CRISPR array) grant efficient interference by at least some CRISPR-Cas systems. This adaptive stage of the CRISPR action is poorly characterized, mainly due to the lack of appropriate genetic strategies to address its study and, at least in Escherichia coli, the need of Cas overproduction for insertion detection. In this work, we describe the development and application in Escherichia coli strains of an interference-independent assay based on engineered selectable CRISPR-spacer integration reporter plasmids. By using this tool without the constraint of interference or cas overexpression, we confirmed fundamental aspects of this process such as the critical requirement of Cas1 and Cas2 and the identity of the CTT protospacer motif for the E. coli K12 system. In addition, we defined the CWT motif for a non-K12 CRISPR-Cas variant, and obtained data supporting the implication of the leader in spacer orientation, the preferred acquisition from plasmids harboring cas genes and the occurrence of a sequential cleavage at the insertion site by a ruler mechanism.
CRISPR-spacer acquisition; Cascade; Escherichia coli K12; O157:H7; RNA-guided immunity; cas genes; protospacer adjacent motif; reporter plasmids; ruler mechanism; spacer orientation
The piRNA (PIWI-interacting RNA) pathway is a small RNA silencing system that acts in animal gonads and protects the genome against the deleterious influence of transposons. A major bottleneck in the field is the lack of comprehensive knowledge of the factors and molecular processes that constitute this pathway. We conducted an RNAi screen in Drosophila and identified ∼50 genes that strongly impact the ovarian somatic piRNA pathway. Many identified genes fall into functional categories that indicate essential roles for mitochondrial metabolism, RNA export, the nuclear pore, transcription elongation, and chromatin regulation in the pathway. Follow-up studies on two factors demonstrate that components acting at distinct hierarchical levels of the pathway were identified. Finally, we define CG2183/Gasz as an essential primary piRNA biogenesis factor in somatic and germline cells. Based on the similarities between insect and vertebrate piRNA pathways, our results have far-reaching implications for the understanding of this conserved genome defense system.
•Systematic identification of somatic piRNA pathway factors in Drosophila•Identification of functional links between piRNA biology and major cellular processes•Characterization of CG2183/Gasz as an essential primary piRNA biogenesis factor
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.