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1.  Diverse CRISPRs Evolving in Human Microbiomes 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(6):e1002441.
CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) loci, together with cas (CRISPR–associated) genes, form the CRISPR/Cas adaptive immune system, a primary defense strategy that eubacteria and archaea mobilize against foreign nucleic acids, including phages and conjugative plasmids. Short spacer sequences separated by the repeats are derived from foreign DNA and direct interference to future infections. The availability of hundreds of shotgun metagenomic datasets from the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) enables us to explore the distribution and diversity of known CRISPRs in human-associated microbial communities and to discover new CRISPRs. We propose a targeted assembly strategy to reconstruct CRISPR arrays, which whole-metagenome assemblies fail to identify. For each known CRISPR type (identified from reference genomes), we use its direct repeat consensus sequence to recruit reads from each HMP dataset and then assemble the recruited reads into CRISPR loci; the unique spacer sequences can then be extracted for analysis. We also identified novel CRISPRs or new CRISPR variants in contigs from whole-metagenome assemblies and used targeted assembly to more comprehensively identify these CRISPRs across samples. We observed that the distributions of CRISPRs (including 64 known and 86 novel ones) are largely body-site specific. We provide detailed analysis of several CRISPR loci, including novel CRISPRs. For example, known streptococcal CRISPRs were identified in most oral microbiomes, totaling ∼8,000 unique spacers: samples resampled from the same individual and oral site shared the most spacers; different oral sites from the same individual shared significantly fewer, while different individuals had almost no common spacers, indicating the impact of subtle niche differences on the evolution of CRISPR defenses. We further demonstrate potential applications of CRISPRs to the tracing of rare species and the virus exposure of individuals. This work indicates the importance of effective identification and characterization of CRISPR loci to the study of the dynamic ecology of microbiomes.
Author Summary
Human bodies are complex ecological systems in which various microbial organisms and viruses interact with each other and with the human host. The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) has resulted in >700 datasets of shotgun metagenomic sequences, from which we can learn about the compositions and functions of human-associated microbial communities. CRISPR/Cas systems are a widespread class of adaptive immune systems in bacteria and archaea, providing acquired immunity against foreign nucleic acids: CRISPR/Cas defense pathways involve integration of viral- or plasmid-derived DNA segments into CRISPR arrays (forming spacers between repeated structural sequences), and expression of short crRNAs from these single repeat-spacer units, to generate interference to future invading foreign genomes. Powered by an effective computational approach (the targeted assembly approach for CRISPR), our analysis of CRISPR arrays in the HMP datasets provides the very first global view of bacterial immunity systems in human-associated microbial communities. The great diversity of CRISPR spacers we observed among different body sites, in different individuals, and in single individuals over time, indicates the impact of subtle niche differences on the evolution of CRISPR defenses and indicates the key role of bacteriophage (and plasmids) in shaping human microbial communities.
PMCID: PMC3374615  PMID: 22719260
2.  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
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.  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.
PMCID: PMC2238196  PMID: 18065539
5.  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
6.  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
7.  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
8.  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
9.  The Streptococcus thermophilus CRISPR/Cas system provides immunity in Escherichia coli 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(21):9275-9282.
The CRISPR/Cas adaptive immune system provides resistance against phages and plasmids in Archaea and Bacteria. CRISPR loci integrate short DNA sequences from invading genetic elements that provide small RNA-mediated interference in subsequent exposure to matching nucleic acids. In Streptococcus thermophilus, it was previously shown that the CRISPR1/Cas system can provide adaptive immunity against phages and plasmids by integrating novel spacers following exposure to these foreign genetic elements that subsequently direct the specific cleavage of invasive homologous DNA sequences. Here, we show that the S. thermophilus CRISPR3/Cas system can be transferred into Escherichia coli and provide heterologous protection against plasmid transformation and phage infection. We show that interference is sequence-specific, and that mutations in the vicinity or within the proto-spacer adjacent motif (PAM) allow plasmids to escape CRISPR-encoded immunity. We also establish that cas9 is the sole cas gene necessary for CRISPR-encoded interference. Furthermore, mutation analysis revealed that interference relies on the Cas9 McrA/HNH- and RuvC/RNaseH-motifs. Altogether, our results show that active CRISPR/Cas systems can be transferred across distant genera and provide heterologous interference against invasive nucleic acids. This can be leveraged to develop strains more robust against phage attack, and safer organisms less likely to uptake and disseminate plasmid-encoded undesirable genetic elements.
PMCID: PMC3241640  PMID: 21813460
10.  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
11.  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
12.  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.
PMCID: PMC2238228  PMID: 18065545
13.  Nasty Viruses, Costly Plasmids, Population Dynamics, and the Conditions for Establishing and Maintaining CRISPR-Mediated Adaptive Immunity in Bacteria 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(10):e1001171.
Clustered, Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) abound in the genomes of almost all archaebacteria and nearly half the eubacteria sequenced. Through a genetic interference mechanism, bacteria with CRISPR regions carrying copies of the DNA of previously encountered phage and plasmids abort the replication of phage and plasmids with these sequences. Thus it would seem that protection against infecting phage and plasmids is the selection pressure responsible for establishing and maintaining CRISPR in bacterial populations. But is it? To address this question and provide a framework and hypotheses for the experimental study of the ecology and evolution of CRISPR, I use mathematical models of the population dynamics of CRISPR-encoding bacteria with lytic phage and conjugative plasmids. The results of the numerical (computer simulation) analysis of the properties of these models with parameters in the ranges estimated for Escherichia coli and its phage and conjugative plasmids indicate: (1) In the presence of lytic phage there are broad conditions where bacteria with CRISPR-mediated immunity will have an advantage in competition with non-CRISPR bacteria with otherwise higher Malthusian fitness. (2) These conditions for the existence of CRISPR are narrower when there is envelope resistance to the phage. (3) While there are situations where CRISPR-mediated immunity can provide bacteria an advantage in competition with higher Malthusian fitness bacteria bearing deleterious conjugative plasmids, the conditions for this to obtain are relatively narrow and the intensity of selection favoring CRISPR weak. The parameters of these models can be independently estimated, the assumption behind their construction validated, and the hypotheses generated from the analysis of their properties tested in experimental populations of bacteria with lytic phage and conjugative plasmids. I suggest protocols for estimating these parameters and outline the design of experiments to evaluate the validity of these models and test these hypotheses.
Author Summary
CRISPR is the acronym for the adaptive immune system that has been found in almost all archaebacteria and nearly half the eubacteria examined. Unlike the other defenses bacteria have for protection from phage and other deleterious DNAs, CRISPR has the virtues of specificity, memory, and the capacity to abort infections with a virtually indefinite diversity of deleterious DNAs. In this report, mathematical models of the population dynamics of bacteria, phage, and plasmids are used to determine the conditions under which CRISPR can become established and will be maintained in bacterial populations and the contribution of this adaptive immune system to the ecology and (co)evolution of bacteria and bacteriophage. The models predict realistic and broad conditions under which bacteria bearing CRISPR regions can invade and be maintained in populations of higher fitness bacteria confronted with bacteriophage and narrower conditions when the confrontation is with competitors carrying conjugative plasmids. The models predict that CRISPR can facilitate long-term co-evolutionary arms races between phage and bacteria and between phage- rather than resource-limited bacterial communities. The parameters of these models can be independently estimated, the assumptions behind their construction validated, and the hypotheses generated from the analysis of their properties tested with experimental populations of bacteria.
PMCID: PMC2965746  PMID: 21060859
14.  Transcription, Processing, and Function of CRISPR Cassettes in Escherichia coli 
Molecular microbiology  2010;77(6):1367-1379.
CRISPR/Cas, bacterial and archaeal systems of interference with foreign genetic elements such as viruses or plasmids, consist of DNA loci called CRISPR cassettes (a set of variable spacers regularly separated by palindromic repeats) and associated cas genes. When a CRISPR spacer sequence exactly matches a sequence in a viral genome, the cell can become resistant to the virus. The CRISPR/Cas systems function through small RNAs originating from longer CRISPR cassette transcripts. While laboratory strains of Escherichia coli contain a functional CRISPR/Cas system (as judged by appearance of phage resistance at conditions of artificial co-overexpression of Cas genes and a CRISPR cassette engineered to target a λ phage), no natural phage resistance due to CRISPR system function was observed in this best-studied organism and no E. coli CRISPR spacer matches sequences of well-studied E. coli phages. To better understand the apparently “silent” E. coli CRISPR/Cas system, we systematically characterized processed transcripts from CRISPR cassettes. Using an engineered strain with genomically located spacer matching phage λ we show that endogenous levels of CRISPR cassette and cas genes expression allow only weak protection against infection with the phage. However, derepression of the CRISPR/Cas system by disruption of the hns gene leads to high level of protection.
PMCID: PMC2939963  PMID: 20624226
15.  Comparative genomic analysis identifies structural features of CRISPR-Cas systems in Riemerella anatipestifer 
BMC Genomics  2016;17(1):689.
Riemerella anatipestifer infection is a contagious disease that has resulted in major economic losses in the duck industry worldwide. This study attempted to characterize CRISPR-Cas systems in the disease-causing agent, Riemerella anatipestifer (R. anatipestifer). The CRISPR-Cas system provides adaptive immunity against foreign genetic elements in prokaryotes and CRISPR-cas loci extensively exist in the genomes of archaea and bacteria. However, the structure characteristics of R. anatipestifer CRISPR-Cas systems remains to be elucidated due to the limited availability of genomic data.
To identify the structure and components associated with CRISPR-Cas systems in R. anatipestifer, we performed comparative genomic analysis of CRISPR-Cas systems in 25 R. anatipestifer strains using high-throughput sequencing. The results showed that most of the R. anatipestifer strains (20/25) that were analyzed have two CRISPR loci (CRISPR1 and CRISPR2). CRISPR1 was shown to be flanked on one side by cas genes, while CRISPR2 was designated as an orphan. The other analyzed strains harbored only one locus, either CRISPR1 or CRISPR2. The length and content of consensus direct repeat sequences, as well as the length of spacer sequences associated with the two loci, differed from each other. Only three cas genes (cas1, cas2 and cas9) were located upstream of CRISPR1. CRISPR1 was also shown to be flanked by a 107 bp-long putative leader sequence and a 16 nt-long anti-repeat sequence. Combined with analysis of spacer organization similarity and phylogenetic tree of the R. anatipestifer strains, CRISPR arrays can be divided into different subgroups. The diversity of spacer organization was observed in the same subgroup. In general, spacer organization in CRISPR1 was more divergent than that in CRISPR2. Additionally, only 8 % of spacers (13/153) were homologous with phage or plasmid sequences. The cas operon flanking CRISPR1 was observed to be relatively conserved based on multiple sequence alignments of Cas amino acid sequences. The phylogenetic analysis associated with Cas9 showed Cas9 sequence from R. anatipestifer was closely related to that of Bacteroides fragilis and formed part of the subtype II-C subcluster.
Our data revealed for the first time the structural features of R. anatipestifer CRISPR-Cas systems. The illumination of structural features of CRISPR-Cas system may assist in studying the specific mechanism associated with CRISPR-mediated adaptive immunity and other biological functions in R. anatipestifer.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12864-016-3040-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC5006608  PMID: 27577199
Riemerella anatipestifer; CRISPR-Cas system; cas gene; repeat sequence; spacer sequence; phylogenetic analysis
16.  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
17.  CRISPR Interference Directs Strand Specific Spacer Acquisition 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35888.
CRISPR/Cas is a widespread adaptive immune system in prokaryotes. This system integrates short stretches of DNA derived from invading nucleic acids into genomic CRISPR loci, which function as memory of previously encountered invaders. In Escherichia coli, transcripts of these loci are cleaved into small RNAs and utilized by the Cascade complex to bind invader DNA, which is then likely degraded by Cas3 during CRISPR interference.
We describe how a CRISPR-activated E. coli K12 is cured from a high copy number plasmid under non-selective conditions in a CRISPR-mediated way. Cured clones integrated at least one up to five anti-plasmid spacers in genomic CRISPR loci. New spacers are integrated directly downstream of the leader sequence. The spacers are non-randomly selected to target protospacers with an AAG protospacer adjacent motif, which is located directly upstream of the protospacer. A co-occurrence of PAM deviations and CRISPR repeat mutations was observed, indicating that one nucleotide from the PAM is incorporated as the last nucleotide of the repeat during integration of a new spacer. When multiple spacers were integrated in a single clone, all spacer targeted the same strand of the plasmid, implying that CRISPR interference caused by the first integrated spacer directs subsequent spacer acquisition events in a strand specific manner.
The E. coli Type I-E CRISPR/Cas system provides resistance against bacteriophage infection, but also enables removal of residing plasmids. We established that there is a positive feedback loop between active spacers in a cluster – in our case the first acquired spacer - and spacers acquired thereafter, possibly through the use of specific DNA degradation products of the CRISPR interference machinery by the CRISPR adaptation machinery. This loop enables a rapid expansion of the spacer repertoire against an actively present DNA element that is already targeted, amplifying the CRISPR interference effect.
PMCID: PMC3338789  PMID: 22558257
18.  Sequences spanning the leader-repeat junction mediate CRISPR adaptation to phage in Streptococcus thermophilus 
Nucleic Acids Research  2015;43(3):1749-1758.
CRISPR-Cas systems are RNA-based immune systems that protect prokaryotes from invaders such as phages and plasmids. In adaptation, the initial phase of the immune response, short foreign DNA fragments are captured and integrated into host CRISPR loci to provide heritable defense against encountered foreign nucleic acids. Each CRISPR contains a ∼100–500 bp leader element that typically includes a transcription promoter, followed by an array of captured ∼35 bp sequences (spacers) sandwiched between copies of an identical ∼35 bp direct repeat sequence. New spacers are added immediately downstream of the leader. Here, we have analyzed adaptation to phage infection in Streptococcus thermophilus at the CRISPR1 locus to identify cis-acting elements essential for the process. We show that the leader and a single repeat of the CRISPR locus are sufficient for adaptation in this system. Moreover, we identified a leader sequence element capable of stimulating adaptation at a dormant repeat. We found that sequences within 10 bp of the site of integration, in both the leader and repeat of the CRISPR, are required for the process. Our results indicate that information at the CRISPR leader-repeat junction is critical for adaptation in this Type II-A system and likely other CRISPR-Cas systems.
PMCID: PMC4330368  PMID: 25589547
19.  Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats Are emm Type-Specific in Highly Prevalent Group A Streptococci 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(12):e0145223.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) are the bacterial adaptive immune system against foreign nucleic acids. Given the variable nature of CRISPR, it could be a good marker for molecular epidemiology. Group A streptococcus is one of the major human pathogens. It has two CRISPR loci, including CRISPR01 and CRISPR02. The aim of this study was to analyze the distribution of CRISPR-associated gene cassettes (cas) and CRISPR arrays in highly prevalent emm types. The cas cassette and CRISPR array in two CRISPR loci were analyzed in a total of 332 strains, including emm1, emm3, emm4, emm12, and emm28 strains. The CRISPR type was defined by the spacer content of each CRISPR array. All strains had at least one cas cassette or CRISPR array. More than 90% of the spacers were found in one emm type, specifically. Comparing the consistency between emm and CRISPR types by Simpson’s index of diversity and the adjusted Wallace coefficient, CRISPR01 type was concordant to emm type, and CRISPR02 showed unidirectional congruence to emm type, suggesting that at least for the majority of isolates causing infection in high income countries, the emm type can be inferred from CRISPR analysis, which can further discriminate isolates sharing the same emm type.
PMCID: PMC4692479  PMID: 26710228
20.  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
21.  Regulated CRISPR Modules Exploit a Dual Defense Strategy of Restriction and Abortive Infection in a Model of Prokaryote-Phage Coevolution 
PLoS Computational Biology  2015;11(11):e1004603.
CRISPRs offer adaptive immunity in prokaryotes by acquiring genomic fragments from infecting phage and subsequently exploiting them for phage restriction via an RNAi-like mechanism. Here, we develop and analyze a dynamical model of CRISPR-mediated prokaryote-phage coevolution that incorporates classical CRISPR kinetics along with the recently discovered infection-induced activation and autoimmunity side effects. Our analyses reveal two striking characteristics of the CRISPR defense strategy: that both restriction and abortive infections operate during coevolution with phages, driving phages to much lower densities than possible with restriction alone, and that CRISPR maintenance is determined by a key dimensionless combination of parameters, which upper bounds the activation level of CRISPRs in uninfected populations. We contrast these qualitative observations with experimental data on CRISPR kinetics, which offer insight into the spacer deletion mechanism and the observed low CRISPR prevalence in clinical isolates. More generally, we exploit numerical simulations to delineate four regimes of CRISPR dynamics in terms of its host, kinetic, and regulatory parameters.
Author Summary
To counteract viral infections, bacteria and archaea have evolved a variety of defense systems. These can broadly be classified into either restriction or suicide mechanisms. The former enforces nicks in the invading DNA making it unusable for production of further infectious particles; the latter, by contrast, induces cell death whereby an infected cell activates specific host suicidal pathways that are otherwise strongly repressed, thus inhibiting further infection. Examples of the former class include restriction-modification (R-M) and the recently discovered CRISPR systems, while the latter class includes a variety of toxin/anti-toxin systems. CRISPRs, in contrast to R-Ms, adapt to target viral genomes by updating the database of target sites they recognize. The adverse side effect of such a mechanism, however, is that CRISPRs can target the host genome itself resulting in undesirable cell death (autoimmunity). The recent discovery of infection-induced activation of CRISPR systems suggests that these negative side effects may be limited to periods of infection. This led us to hypothesize that such regulatory control—similar to abortive infection mechanisms—can be advantageous by limiting viral spread through suicide of infected cells. To test this hypothesis, we mathematically model CRISPR induced prokaryote-phage coevolutionary dynamics in the presence of infection-regulated CRISPR activity. Our results indicate that, except in limited growth rates, regulated CRISPRs exploit both autoimmunity and target restriction and can therefore be considered a hybrid class that leverages both restriction and suicide mechanisms to limit phage infection.
PMCID: PMC4636164  PMID: 26544847
22.  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
23.  Function of the CRISPR-Cas System of the Human Pathogen Clostridium difficile 
mBio  2015;6(5):e01112-15.
Clostridium difficile is the cause of most frequently occurring nosocomial diarrhea worldwide. As an enteropathogen, C. difficile must be exposed to multiple exogenous genetic elements in bacteriophage-rich gut communities. CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)-Cas (CRISPR-associated) systems allow bacteria to adapt to foreign genetic invaders. Our recent data revealed active expression and processing of CRISPR RNAs from multiple type I-B CRISPR arrays in C. difficile reference strain 630. Here, we demonstrate active expression of CRISPR arrays in strain R20291, an epidemic C. difficile strain. Through genome sequencing and host range analysis of several new C. difficile phages and plasmid conjugation experiments, we provide evidence of defensive function of the CRISPR-Cas system in both C. difficile strains. We further demonstrate that C. difficile Cas proteins are capable of interference in a heterologous host, Escherichia coli. These data set the stage for mechanistic and physiological analyses of CRISPR-Cas-mediated interactions of important global human pathogen with its genetic parasites.
Clostridium difficile is the major cause of nosocomial infections associated with antibiotic therapy worldwide. To survive in bacteriophage-rich gut communities, enteropathogens must develop efficient systems for defense against foreign DNA elements. CRISPR-Cas systems have recently taken center stage among various anti-invader bacterial defense systems. We provide experimental evidence for the function of the C. difficile CRISPR system against plasmid DNA and bacteriophages. These data demonstrate the original features of active C. difficile CRISPR system and bring important insights into the interactions of this major enteropathogen with foreign DNA invaders during its infection cycle.
PMCID: PMC4556805  PMID: 26330515
24.  Global transcription of CRISPR loci in the human oral cavity 
BMC Genomics  2015;16(1):401.
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPRs) are active in acquired resistance against bacteriophage and plasmids in a number of environments. In the human mouth, CRISPR loci evolve to counteract oral phage, but the expression of these CRISPR loci has not previously been investigated. We sequenced cDNA from CRISPR loci found in numerous different oral bacteria and compared with oral phage communities to determine whether the transcription of CRISPR loci is specifically targeted towards highly abundant phage present in the oral environment.
We found that of the 529,027 CRISPR spacer groups studied, 88 % could be identified in transcripts, indicating that the vast majority of CRISPR loci in the oral cavity were transcribed. There were no strong associations between CRISPR spacer repertoires and oral health status or nucleic acid type. We also compared CRISPR repertoires with oral bacteriophage communities, and found that there was no significant association between CRISPR transcripts and oral phage, regardless of the CRISPR type being evaluated. We characterized highly expressed CRISPR spacers and found that they were no more likely than other spacers to match oral phage. By reassembling the CRISPR-bearing reads into longer CRISPR loci, we found that the majority of the loci did not have spacers matching viruses found in the oral cavities of the subjects studied. For some CRISPR types, loci containing spacers matching oral phage were significantly more likely to have multiple spacers rather than a single spacer matching oral phage.
These data suggest that the transcription of oral CRISPR loci is relatively ubiquitous and that highly expressed CRISPR spacers do not necessarily target the most abundant oral phage.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12864-015-1615-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4438527  PMID: 25994215
CRISPR; Microbiome; Oral microbiome; Virome; Virus
25.  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

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