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1.  Diversity, Evolution, and Functionality of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) Regions in the Fire Blight Pathogen Erwinia amylovora▿† 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(11):3819-3829.
The clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)/Cas system confers acquired heritable immunity against mobile nucleic acid elements in prokaryotes, limiting phage infection and horizontal gene transfer of plasmids. In CRISPR arrays, characteristic repeats are interspersed with similarly sized nonrepetitive spacers derived from transmissible genetic elements and acquired when the cell is challenged with foreign DNA. New spacers are added sequentially and the number and type of CRISPR units can differ among strains, providing a record of phage/plasmid exposure within a species and giving a valuable typing tool. The aim of this work was to investigate CRISPR diversity in the highly homogeneous species Erwinia amylovora, the causal agent of fire blight. A total of 18 CRISPR genotypes were defined within a collection of 37 cosmopolitan strains. Strains from Spiraeoideae plants clustered in three major groups: groups II and III were composed exclusively of bacteria originating from the United States, whereas group I generally contained strains of more recent dissemination obtained in Europe, New Zealand, and the Middle East. Strains from Rosoideae and Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica) clustered separately and displayed a higher intrinsic diversity than that of isolates from Spiraeoideae plants. Reciprocal exclusion was generally observed between plasmid content and cognate spacer sequences, supporting the role of the CRISPR/Cas system in protecting against foreign DNA elements. However, in several group III strains, retention of plasmid pEU30 is inconsistent with a functional CRISPR/Cas system.
PMCID: PMC3127596  PMID: 21460108
2.  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
3.  CRISPR-Cas systems target a diverse collection of invasive mobile genetic elements in human microbiomes 
Genome Biology  2013;14(4):R40.
Bacteria and archaea develop immunity against invading genomes by incorporating pieces of the invaders' sequences, called spacers, into a clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) locus between repeats, forming arrays of repeat-spacer units. When spacers are expressed, they direct CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins to silence complementary invading DNA. In order to characterize the invaders of human microbiomes, we use spacers from CRISPR arrays that we had previously assembled from shotgun metagenomic datasets, and identify contigs that contain these spacers' targets.
We discover 95,000 contigs that are putative invasive mobile genetic elements, some targeted by hundreds of CRISPR spacers. We find that oral sites in healthy human populations have a much greater variety of mobile genetic elements than stool samples. Mobile genetic elements carry genes encoding diverse functions: only 7% of the mobile genetic elements are similar to known phages or plasmids, although a much greater proportion contain phage- or plasmid-related genes. A small number of contigs share similarity with known integrative and conjugative elements, providing the first examples of CRISPR defenses against this class of element. We provide detailed analyses of a few large mobile genetic elements of various types, and a relative abundance analysis of mobile genetic elements and putative hosts, exploring the dynamic activities of mobile genetic elements in human microbiomes. A joint analysis of mobile genetic elements and CRISPRs shows that protospacer-adjacent motifs drive their interaction network; however, some CRISPR-Cas systems target mobile genetic elements lacking motifs.
We identify a large collection of invasive mobile genetic elements in human microbiomes, an important resource for further study of the interaction between the CRISPR-Cas immune system and invaders.
PMCID: PMC4053933  PMID: 23628424
CRISPR-Cas system; human microbiome; mobile genetic element (MGE)
4.  Comparative analysis of CRISPR cassettes from the human gut metagenomic contigs 
BMC Genomics  2014;15:202.
CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a prokaryotic adaptive defence system that provides resistance against alien replicons such as viruses and plasmids. Spacers in a CRISPR cassette confer immunity against viruses and plasmids containing regions complementary to the spacers and hence they retain a footprint of interactions between prokaryotes and their viruses in individual strains and ecosystems. The human gut is a rich habitat populated by numerous microorganisms, but a large fraction of these are unculturable and little is known about them in general and their CRISPR systems in particular.
We used human gut metagenomic data from three open projects in order to characterize the composition and dynamics of CRISPR cassettes in the human-associated microbiota. Applying available CRISPR-identification algorithms and a previously designed filtering procedure to the assembled human gut metagenomic contigs, we found 388 CRISPR cassettes, 373 of which had repeats not observed previously in complete genomes or other datasets. Only 171 of 3,545 identified spacers were coupled with protospacers from the human gut metagenomic contigs. The number of matches to GenBank sequences was negligible, providing protospacers for 26 spacers.
Reconstruction of CRISPR cassettes allowed us to track the dynamics of spacer content. In agreement with other published observations we show that spacers shared by different cassettes (and hence likely older ones) tend to the trailer ends, whereas spacers with matches in the metagenomes are distributed unevenly across cassettes, demonstrating a preference to form clusters closer to the active end of a CRISPR cassette, adjacent to the leader, and hence suggesting dynamical interactions between prokaryotes and viruses in the human gut. Remarkably, spacers match protospacers in the metagenome of the same individual with frequency comparable to a random control, but may match protospacers from metagenomes of other individuals.
The analysis of assembled contigs is complementary to the approach based on the analysis of original reads and hence provides additional data about composition and evolution of CRISPR cassettes, revealing the dynamics of CRISPR-phage interactions in metagenomes.
PMCID: PMC4004331  PMID: 24628983
CRISPR; Human gut; Microbiome
5.  Relatedness of Chromosomal and Plasmid DNAs of Erwinia pyrifoliae and Erwinia amylovora 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2002;68(12):6182-6192.
The plant pathogen Erwinia pyrifoliae has been classified as a separate species from Erwinia amylovora based in part on differences in molecular properties. In this study, these and other molecular properties were examined for E. pyrifoliae and for additional strains of E. amylovora, including strains from brambles (Rubus spp.). The nucleotide composition of the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region was determined for six of the seven 16S-23S rRNA operons detected in these species with a 16S rRNA gene probe. Each species contained four operons with a tRNAGlu gene and two with tRNAIle and tRNAAla genes, and analysis of the operons from five strains of E. amylovora indicated a high degree of ITS variability among them. One tRNAGlu-containing operon from E. pyrifoliae Ep1/96 was identical to one in E. amylovora Ea110, but three tRNAGlu operons and two tRNAIle and tRNAAla operons from E. pyrifoliae contained unique nucleotide changes. When groEL sequences were used for species-specific identification, E. pyrifoliae and E. amylovora were the closest phylogenetic relatives among a set of 12 bacterial species. The placement of E. pyrifoliae distinct from E. amylovora corroborated molecular hybridization data indicating low DNA-DNA similarity between them. Determination of the nucleotide sequence of plasmid pEP36 from E. pyrifoliae Ep1/96 revealed a number of presumptive genes that matched genes previously found in pEA29 from E. amylovora and similar organization for the genes and origins of replication. Also, pEP36 and pEA29 were incompatible with clones containing the reciprocal origin regions. Finally, the ColE1-like plasmid pEP2.6 from strain Ep1/96 contained sequences found in small plasmids in E. amylovora strains IL-5 and IH3-1.
PMCID: PMC134437  PMID: 12450843
6.  Insights into the CRISPR/Cas system of Gardnerella vaginalis 
BMC Microbiology  2012;12:301.
Gardnerella vaginalis is identified as the predominant colonist of the vaginal tracts of women diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis (BV). G. vaginalis can be isolated from healthy women, and an asymptomatic BV state is also recognised. The association of G. vaginalis with different clinical phenotypes could be explained by different cytotoxicity of the strains, presumably based on disparate gene content. The contribution of horizontal gene transfer to shaping the genomes of G. vaginalis is acknowledged. The CRISPR loci of the recently discovered CRISPR/Cas microbial defence system provide a historical view of the exposure of prokaryotes to a variety of foreign genetic elements.
The CRISPR/Cas loci were analysed using available sequence data from three G. vaginalis complete genomes and 18 G. vaginalis draft genomes in the NCBI database, as well as PCR amplicons of the genomic DNA of 17 clinical isolates. The cas genes in the CRISPR/Cas loci of G. vaginalis belong to the E. coli subtype. Approximately 20% of the spacers had matches in the GenBank database. Sequence analysis of the CRISPR arrays revealed that nearly half of the spacers matched G. vaginalis chromosomal sequences. The spacers that matched G. vaginalis chromosomal sequences were determined to not be self-targeting and were presumably neither constituents of mobile-element-associated genes nor derived from plasmids/viruses. The protospacers targeted by these spacers displayed conserved protospacer-adjacent motifs.
The CRISPR/Cas system has been identified in about one half of the analysed G. vaginalis strains. Our analysis of CRISPR sequences did not reveal a potential link between their presence and the virulence of the G. vaginalis strains. Based on the origins of the spacers found in the G. vaginalis CRISPR arrays, we hypothesise that the transfer of genetic material among G. vaginalis strains could be regulated by the CRISPR/Cas mechanism. The present study is the first attempt to determine and analyse the CRISPR loci of bacteria isolated from the human vaginal tract.
PMCID: PMC3559282  PMID: 23259527
Gardnerella vaginalis; Bacterial vaginosis; CRISPR/Cas; Spacer; Repeat; PAM
7.  The Evolutionary Divergence of Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli Is Reflected in Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) Spacer Composition 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2013;79(18):5710-5720.
The Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) strains, including those of O157:H7 and the “big six” serogroups (i.e., serogroups O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, and O145), are a group of pathogens designated food adulterants in the United States. The relatively conserved nature of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) in phylogenetically related E. coli strains makes them potential subtyping markers for STEC detection, and a quantitative PCR (qPCR)-based assay was previously developed for O26:H11, O45:H2, O103:H2, O111:H8, O121:H19, O145:H28, and O157:H7 isolates. To better evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of this qPCR method, the CRISPR loci of 252 O157 and big-six STEC isolates were sequenced and analyzed along with 563 CRISPR1 and 624 CRISPR2 sequences available in GenBank. General conservation of spacer content and order was observed within each O157 and big-six serogroup, validating the qPCR method. Meanwhile, it was found that spacer deletion, the presence of an insertion sequence, and distinct alleles within a serogroup are sources of false-negative reactions. Conservation of CRISPR arrays among isolates expressing the same flagellar antigen, specifically, H7, H2, and H11, suggested that these isolates share an ancestor and provided an explanation for the false positives previously observed in the qPCR results. An analysis of spacer distribution across E. coli strains provided limited evidence for temporal spacer acquisition. Conversely, comparison of CRISPR sequences between strains along the stepwise evolution of O157:H7 from its O55:H7 ancestor revealed that, over this ∼7,000-year span, spacer deletion was the primary force generating CRISPR diversity.
PMCID: PMC3754162  PMID: 23851088
8.  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
9.  Lactobacillus buchneri Genotyping on the Basis of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) Locus Diversity 
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) in combination with associated sequences (cas) constitute the CRISPR-Cas immune system, which uptakes DNA from invasive genetic elements as novel “spacers” that provide a genetic record of immunization events. We investigated the potential of CRISPR-based genotyping of Lactobacillus buchneri, a species relevant for commercial silage, bioethanol, and vegetable fermentations. Upon investigating the occurrence and diversity of CRISPR-Cas systems in Lactobacillus buchneri genomes, we observed a ubiquitous occurrence of CRISPR arrays containing a 36-nucleotide (nt) type II-A CRISPR locus adjacent to four cas genes, including the universal cas1 and cas2 genes and the type II signature gene cas9. Comparative analysis of CRISPR spacer content in 26 L. buchneri pickle fermentation isolates associated with spoilage revealed 10 unique locus genotypes that contained between 9 and 29 variable spacers. We observed a set of conserved spacers at the ancestral end, reflecting a common origin, as well as leader-end polymorphisms, reflecting recent divergence. Some of these spacers showed perfect identity with phage sequences, and many spacers showed homology to Lactobacillus plasmid sequences. Following a comparative analysis of sequences immediately flanking protospacers that matched CRISPR spacers, we identified a novel putative protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM), 5′-AAAA-3′. Overall, these findings suggest that type II-A CRISPR-Cas systems are valuable for genotyping of L. buchneri.
PMCID: PMC3911191  PMID: 24271175
10.  Intricate Interactions between the Bloom-Forming Cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa and Foreign Genetic Elements, Revealed by Diversified Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) Signatures 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(15):5353-5360.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) confer sequence-dependent, adaptive resistance in prokaryotes against viruses and plasmids via incorporation of short sequences, called spacers, derived from foreign genetic elements. CRISPR loci are thus considered to provide records of past infections. To describe the host-parasite (i.e., cyanophages and plasmids) interactions involving the bloom-forming freshwater cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa, we investigated CRISPR in four M. aeruginosa strains and in two previously sequenced genomes. The number of spacers in each locus was larger than the average among prokaryotes. All spacers were strain specific, except for a string of 11 spacers shared in two closely related strains, suggesting diversification of the loci. Using CRISPR repeat-based PCR, 24 CRISPR genotypes were identified in a natural cyanobacterial community. Among 995 unique spacers obtained, only 10 sequences showed similarity to M. aeruginosa phage Ma-LMM01. Of these, six spacers showed only silent or conservative nucleotide mutations compared to Ma-LMM01 sequences, suggesting a strategy by the cyanophage to avert CRISPR immunity dependent on nucleotide identity. These results imply that host-phage interactions can be divided into M. aeruginosa-cyanophage combinations rather than pandemics of population-wide infectious cyanophages. Spacer similarity also showed frequent exposure of M. aeruginosa to small cryptic plasmids that were observed only in a few strains. Thus, the diversification of CRISPR implies that M. aeruginosa has been challenged by diverse communities (almost entirely uncharacterized) of cyanophages and plasmids.
PMCID: PMC3416447  PMID: 22636003
11.  CRISPR Distribution within the Escherichia coli Species Is Not Suggestive of Immunity-Associated Diversifying Selection ▿ †  
Journal of Bacteriology  2011;193(10):2460-2467.
In order to get further insights into the role of the clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) in Escherichia coli, we analyzed the CRISPR diversity in a collection of 290 strains, in the phylogenetic framework of the strains represented by multilocus sequence typing (MLST). The set included 263 natural E. coli isolates exposed to various environments and isolated over a 20-year period from humans and animals, as well as 27 fully sequenced strains. Our analyses confirm that there are two largely independent pairs of CRISPR loci (CRISPR1 and -2 and CRISPR3 and -4), each associated with a different type of cas genes (Ecoli and Ypest, respectively), but that each pair of CRISPRs has similar dynamics. Strikingly, the major phylogenetic group B2 is almost devoid of CRISPRs. The majority of genomes analyzed lack Ypest cas genes and contain CRISPR3 with spacers matching Ypest cas genes. The analysis of relatedness between strains in terms of spacer repertoire and the MLST tree shows a pattern where closely related strains (MLST phylogenetic distance of <0.005 corresponding to at least hundreds of thousands of years) often exhibit identical CRISPRs while more distantly related strains (MLST distance of >0.01) exhibit completely different CRISPRs. This suggests rare but radical turnover of spacers in CRISPRs rather than CRISPR gradual change. We found no link between the presence, size, or content of CRISPRs and the lifestyle of the strains. Our data suggest that, within the E. coli species, CRISPRs do not have the expected characteristics of a classical immune system.
PMCID: PMC3133152  PMID: 21421763
12.  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
13.  Abundant and Diverse Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat Spacers in Clostridium difficile Strains and Prophages Target Multiple Phage Types within This Pathogen 
mBio  2014;5(5):e01045-13.
Clostridium difficile is an important human-pathogenic bacterium causing antibiotic-associated nosocomial infections worldwide. Mobile genetic elements and bacteriophages have helped shape C. difficile genome evolution. In many bacteria, phage infection may be controlled by a form of bacterial immunity called the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/CRISPR-associated (CRISPR/Cas) system. This uses acquired short nucleotide sequences (spacers) to target homologous sequences (protospacers) in phage genomes. C. difficile carries multiple CRISPR arrays, and in this paper we examine the relationships between the host- and phage-carried elements of the system. We detected multiple matches between spacers and regions in 31 C. difficile phage and prophage genomes. A subset of the spacers was located in prophage-carried CRISPR arrays. The CRISPR spacer profiles generated suggest that related phages would have similar host ranges. Furthermore, we show that C. difficile strains of the same ribotype could either have similar or divergent CRISPR contents. Both synonymous and nonsynonymous mutations in the protospacer sequences were identified, as well as differences in the protospacer adjacent motif (PAM), which could explain how phages escape this system. This paper illustrates how the distribution and diversity of CRISPR spacers in C. difficile, and its prophages, could modulate phage predation for this pathogen and impact upon its evolution and pathogenicity.
Clostridium difficile is a significant bacterial human pathogen which undergoes continual genome evolution, resulting in the emergence of new virulent strains. Phages are major facilitators of genome evolution in other bacterial species, and we use sequence analysis-based approaches in order to examine whether the CRISPR/Cas system could control these interactions across divergent C. difficile strains. The presence of spacer sequences in prophages that are homologous to phage genomes raises an extra level of complexity in this predator-prey microbial system. Our results demonstrate that the impact of phage infection in this system is widespread and that the CRISPR/Cas system is likely to be an important aspect of the evolutionary dynamics in C. difficile.
PMCID: PMC4173771  PMID: 25161187
14.  Conventional and Real-Time PCRs for Detection of Erwinia piriflorinigrans Allow Its Distinction from the Fire Blight Pathogen, Erwinia amylovora 
Erwinia piriflorinigrans is a new pathogenic species of the bacterial genus Erwinia that has been described recently in Spain. Accurate detection and identification of E. piriflorinigrans are challenging because its symptoms on pear blossoms are similar to those caused by Erwinia amylovora, the causal agent of fire blight. Moreover, these two species share phenotypic and molecular characteristics. Two specific and sensitive conventional and real-time PCR protocols were developed to identify and detect E. piriflorinigrans and to differentiate it from E. amylovora and other species of this genus. These protocols were based on sequences from plasmid pEPIR37, which is present in all strains of E. piriflorinigrans analyzed. After the stability of the plasmid was demonstrated, the specificities of the protocols were confirmed by the amplification of all E. piriflorinigrans strains tested, whereas 304 closely related pathogenic and nonpathogenic Erwinia strains and microbiota from pear trees were not amplified. In sensitivity assays, 103 cells/ml extract were detected in spiked plant material by conventional or real-time PCR, and 102 cells/ml were detected in DNA extracted from spiked plant material by real-time PCR. The protocols developed here succeeded in detecting E. piriflorinigrans in 102 out of 564 symptomatic and asymptomatic naturally infected pear samples (flowers, cortex stem tissue, leaves, shoots, and fruitlets), in necrotic Pyracantha sp. blossoms, and in necrotic pear and apple tissues infected with both E. amylovora and E. piriflorinigrans. Therefore, these new tools can be used in epidemiological studies that will enhance our understanding of the life cycle of E. piriflorinigrans in different hosts and plant tissues and its interaction with E. amylovora.
PMCID: PMC3993200  PMID: 24509928
15.  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
16.  Identification of genes differentially expressed during interaction of resistant and susceptible apple cultivars (Malus × domestica) with Erwinia amylovora 
BMC Plant Biology  2010;10:1.
The necrogenic enterobacterium, Erwinia amylovora is the causal agent of the fire blight (FB) disease in many Rosaceaespecies, including apple and pear. During the infection process, the bacteria induce an oxidative stress response with kinetics similar to those induced in an incompatible bacteria-plant interaction. No resistance mechanism to E. amylovora in host plants has yet been characterized, recent work has identified some molecular events which occur in resistant and/or susceptible host interaction with E. amylovora: In order to understand the mechanisms that characterize responses to FB, differentially expressed genes were identified by cDNA-AFLP analysis in resistant and susceptible apple genotypes after inoculation with E. amylovora.
cDNA were isolated from M.26 (susceptible) and G.41 (resistant) apple tissues collected 2 h and 48 h after challenge with a virulent E. amylovora strain or mock (buffer) inoculated. To identify differentially expressed transcripts, electrophoretic banding patterns were obtained from cDNAs. In the AFLP experiments, M.26 and G.41 showed different patterns of expression, including genes specifically induced, not induced, or repressed by E. amylovora. In total, 190 ESTs differentially expressed between M.26 and G.41 were identified using 42 pairs of AFLP primers. cDNA-AFLP analysis of global EST expression in a resistant and a susceptible apple genotype identified different major classes of genes. EST sequencing data showed that genes linked to resistance, encoding proteins involved in recognition, signaling, defense and apoptosis, were modulated by E. amylovora in its host plant. The expression time course of some of these ESTs selected via a bioinformatic analysis has been characterized.
These data are being used to develop hypotheses of resistance or susceptibility mechanisms in Malus to E. amylovora and provide an initial categorization of genes possibly involved in recognition events, early signaling responses the subsequent development of resistance or susceptibility. These data also provided potential candidates for improving apple resistance to fire blight either by marker-assisted selection or genetic engineering.
PMCID: PMC2827420  PMID: 20047654
17.  Association of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) Elements with Specific Serotypes and Virulence Potential of Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli 
Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) strains (n = 194) representing 43 serotypes and E. coli K-12 were examined for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) arrays to study genetic relatedness among STEC serotypes. A subset of the strains (n = 81) was further analyzed for subtype I-E cas and virulence genes to determine a possible association of CRISPR elements with potential virulence. Four types of CRISPR arrays were identified. CRISPR1 and CRISPR2 were present in all strains tested; 1 strain also had both CRISPR3 and CRISPR4, whereas 193 strains displayed a short, combined array, CRISPR3-4. A total of 3,353 spacers were identified, representing 528 distinct spacers. The average length of a spacer was 32 bp. Approximately one-half of the spacers (54%) were unique and found mostly in strains of less common serotypes. Overall, CRISPR spacer contents correlated well with STEC serotypes, and identical arrays were shared between strains with the same H type (O26:H11, O103:H11, and O111:H11). There was no association identified between the presence of subtype I-E cas and virulence genes, but the total number of spacers had a negative correlation with potential pathogenicity (P < 0.05). Fewer spacers were found in strains that had a greater probability of causing outbreaks and disease than in those with lower virulence potential (P < 0.05). The relationship between the CRISPR-cas system and potential virulence needs to be determined on a broader scale, and the biological link will need to be established.
PMCID: PMC3911044  PMID: 24334663
18.  Priming in the Type I-F CRISPR-Cas system triggers strand-independent spacer acquisition, bi-directionally from the primed protospacer 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(13):8516-8526.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR), in combination with CRISPR associated (cas) genes, constitute CRISPR-Cas bacterial adaptive immune systems. To generate immunity, these systems acquire short sequences of nucleic acids from foreign invaders and incorporate these into their CRISPR arrays as spacers. This adaptation process is the least characterized step in CRISPR-Cas immunity. Here, we used Pectobacterium atrosepticum to investigate adaptation in Type I-F CRISPR-Cas systems. Pre-existing spacers that matched plasmids stimulated hyperactive primed acquisition and resulted in the incorporation of up to nine new spacers across all three native CRISPR arrays. Endogenous expression of the cas genes was sufficient, yet required, for priming. The new spacers inhibited conjugation and transformation, and interference was enhanced with increasing numbers of new spacers. We analyzed ∼350 new spacers acquired in priming events and identified a 5′-protospacer-GG-3′ protospacer adjacent motif. In contrast to priming in Type I-E systems, new spacers matched either plasmid strand and a biased distribution, including clustering near the primed protospacer, suggested a bi-directional translocation model for the Cas1:Cas2–3 adaptation machinery. Taken together these results indicate priming adaptation occurs in different CRISPR-Cas systems, that it can be highly active in wild-type strains and that the underlying mechanisms vary.
PMCID: PMC4117759  PMID: 24990370
19.  Molecular and physiological properties of bacteriophages from North America and Germany affecting the fire blight pathogen Erwinia amylovora 
Microbial biotechnology  2011;4(6):735-745.
For possible control of fire blight affecting apple and pear trees, we characterized Erwinia amylovora phages from North America and Germany. The genome size determined by electron microscopy (EM) was confirmed by sequence data and major coat proteins were identified from gel bands by mass spectroscopy. By their morphology from EM data, φEa1h and φEa100 were assigned to the Podoviridae and φEa104 and φEa116 to the Myoviridae. Host ranges were essentially confined to E. amylovora, strains of the species Erwinia pyrifoliae, E. billingiae and even Pantoea stewartii were partially sensitive. The phages φEa1h and φEa100 were dependent on the amylovoran capsule of E. amylovora, φEa104 and φEa116 were not. The Myoviridae efficiently lysed their hosts and protected apple flowers significantly better than the Podoviridae against E. amylovora and should be preferred in biocontrol experiments. We have also isolated and partially characterized E. amylovora phages from apple orchards in Germany. They belong to the Podoviridae or Myoviridae with a host range similar to the phages isolated in North America. In EM measurements, the genome sizes of the Podoviridae were smaller than the genomes of the Myoviridae from North America and from Germany, which differed from each other in corresponding nucleotide sequences.
PMCID: PMC3815410  PMID: 21791029
20.  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
21.  CRISPRs: Molecular Signatures Used for Pathogen Subtyping 
Rapid and accurate strain identification is paramount in the battle against microbial outbreaks, and several subtyping approaches have been developed. One such method uses clustered regular interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs), DNA repeat elements that are present in approximately half of all bacteria. Though their signature function is as an adaptive immune system against invading DNA such as bacteriophages and plasmids, CRISPRs also provide an excellent framework for pathogen tracking and evolutionary studies. Analysis of the spacer DNA sequences that reside between the repeats has been tremendously useful for bacterial subtyping during molecular epidemiological investigations. Subtyping, or strain identification, using CRISPRs has been employed in diverse Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Salmonella enterica, and the plant pathogen Erwinia amylovora. This review discusses the several ways in which CRISPR sequences are exploited for subtyping. This includes the well-established spoligotyping methodologies that have been used for 2 decades to type Mycobacterium species, as well as in-depth consideration of newer, higher-throughput CRISPR-based protocols.
PMCID: PMC3911090  PMID: 24162568
22.  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
23.  Complete Nucleotide Sequence of Ubiquitous Plasmid pEA29 from Erwinia amylovora Strain Ea88: Gene Organization and Intraspecies Variation 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2000;66(11):4897-4907.
The complete sequence of plasmid pEA29 from Erwinia amylovora strain Ea88 consists of 28,185 bp with a 50.2% G+C content. As deletions and insertions were detected in other derivatives of pEA29, its size actually varied from 27.6 to 34.9 kb. Thirteen open reading frames that encoded predicted proteins with similarities to known proteins from other bacteria were identified along with two open reading frames related to hypothetical proteins found in GenBank and six open reading frames with no similarities to existing GenBank entries. Predicted products of open reading frames with similarity to the thiamine biosynthetic genes thiO, thiG, and thiF; a betT gene coding for choline transport; an msrA gene for the enzyme methionine sulfoxide reductase; a putative methyl-accepting chemotaxis gene; an aldehyde dehydrogenase gene; an hns DNA binding gene; a LysR-type transcriptional regulator; and parA and parB partitioning genes were identified. A putative iteron-containing theta-type origin of replication with an AT-rich region and a gene for a RepA protein was identified. PstI and KpnI restriction patterns for pEA29 isolated from tree fruit strains of E. amylovora were homogenous and different from those for pEA29 isolated from Rubus (raspberry) strains. All Rubus derivatives of pEA29 contained a point mutation that eliminated a PstI site and a 1,264-bp region that replaced 1,890 bp of sequence found in pEA29 from strain Ea88. This change eliminated a second PstI site and increased the length of a KpnI fragment. An insertion sequence, ISEam1, was detected in one Rubus strain, and transposon Tn5393 was detected in three apple strains in two separate locations on the plasmid. Plasmid-cured strains exhibited reduced virulence and modified colony morphology on minimal medium without thiamine, indicating that some of the genes in pEA29 play a role in the physiology or metabolism of E. amylovora.
PMCID: PMC92397  PMID: 11055941
24.  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
25.  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

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