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1.  C2c2 is a single-component programmable RNA-guided RNA-targeting CRISPR effector 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2016;353(6299):aaf5573.
The CRISPR-Cas adaptive immune system defends microbes against foreign genetic elements via DNA or RNA-DNA interference. We characterize the Class 2 type VI-A CRISPR-Cas effector C2c2 and demonstrate its RNA-guided RNase function. C2c2 from the bacterium Leptotrichia shahii provides interference against RNA phage. In vitro biochemical analysis show that C2c2 is guided by a single crRNA and can be programmed to cleave ssRNA targets carrying complementary protospacers. In bacteria, C2c2 can be programmed to knock down specific mRNAs. Cleavage is mediated by catalytic residues in the two conserved HEPN domains, mutations in which generate catalytically inactive RNA-binding proteins. These results broaden our understanding of CRISPR-Cas systems and suggest that C2c2 can be used to develop new RNA-targeting tools.
PMCID: PMC5127784  PMID: 27256883
2.  Discovery and functional characterization of diverse Class 2 CRISPR-Cas systems 
Molecular cell  2015;60(3):385-397.
Microbial CRISPR-Cas systems are divided into Class 1, with multisubunit effector complexes, and Class 2, with single protein effectors. Currently, only two Class 2 effectors, Cas9 and Cpf1, are known. We describe here three distinct Class 2 CRISPR-Cas systems. The effectors of two of the identified systems, C2c1 and C2c3, contain RuvC-like endonuclease domains distantly related to Cpf1. The third system, C2c2, contains an effector with two predicted HEPN RNase domains. Whereas production of mature CRISPR RNA (crRNA) by C2c1 depends on tracrRNA, C2c2 crRNA maturation is tracrRNA-independent. We found that C2c1 systems can mediate DNA interference in a 5’-PAM-dependent fashion analogous to Cpf1. However, unlike Cpf1, which is a single-RNA-guided nuclease, C2c1 depends on both crRNA and tracrRNA for DNA cleavage. Finally, comparative analysis indicates that Class 2 CRISPR-Cas systems evolved on multiple occasions through recombination of Class 1 adaptation modules with effector proteins acquired from distinct mobile elements.
Graphical abstract
PMCID: PMC4660269  PMID: 26593719
CRISPR-Cas adaptive immunity; Cas9; Cpf1; crRNA; tracrRNA; PAM; RuvC-like endonuclease; HEPN domain; computational discovery pipeline; RNA-seq
3.  Cpf1 is a single RNA-guided endonuclease of a Class 2 CRISPR-Cas system 
Cell  2015;163(3):759-771.
The microbial adaptive immune system CRISPR mediates defense against foreign genetic elements through two classes of RNA-guided nuclease effectors. Class 1 effectors utilize multi-protein complexes, whereas Class 2 effectors rely on single-component effector proteins such as the well-characterized Cas9. Here we report characterization of Cpf1, a putative Class 2 CRISPR effector. We demonstrate that Cpf1 mediates robust DNA interference with features distinct from Cas9. Cpf1 is a single RNA-guided endonuclease lacking tracrRNA, and it utilizes a T-rich protospacer adjacent motif. Moreover, Cpf1 cleaves DNA via a staggered DNA double stranded break. Out of 16 Cpf1-family proteins, we identified two candidate enzymes, from Acidominococcus and Lachnospiraceae, with efficient genome editing activity in human cells. Identifying this mechanism of interference broadens our understanding of CRISPR-Cas systems and advances their genome editing applications.
Graphical Abstract
PMCID: PMC4638220  PMID: 26422227
4.  Crystal structure of Cpf1 in complex with guide RNA and target DNA 
Cell  2016;165(4):949-962.
Cpf1 is an RNA-guided endonuclease of a type V CRISPR-Cas system that has been recently harnessed for genome editing. Here, we report the crystal structure of Acidaminococcus sp. Cpf1 (AsCpf1) in complex with the guide RNA and its target DNA, at 2.8 Å resolution. AsCpf1 adopts a bilobed architecture, with the RNA–DNA heteroduplex bound inside the central channel. The structural comparison of AsCpf1 with Cas9, a type II CRISPR-Cas nuclease, reveals both striking similarity and major differences, thereby explaining their distinct functionalities. AsCpf1 contains the RuvC domain and a putative novel nuclease domain, which are responsible for the cleavage of the non-target and target strands, respectively, and jointly generate staggered DNA double-strand breaks. AsCpf1 recognizes the 5′-TTTN-3′ protospacer adjacent motif by base and shape readout mechanisms. Our findings provide mechanistic insights into RNA-guided DNA cleavage by Cpf1, and establish a framework for rational engineering of the CRISPR-Cpf1 toolbox.
PMCID: PMC4899970  PMID: 27114038
5.  Diversity and Evolution of Type IV pili Systems in Archaea 
Many surface structures in archaea including various types of pili and the archaellum (archaeal flagellum) are homologous to bacterial type IV pili systems (T4P). The T4P consist of multiple proteins, often with poorly conserved sequences, complicating their identification in sequenced genomes. Here we report a comprehensive census of T4P encoded in archaeal genomes using sensitive methods for protein sequence comparison. This analysis confidently identifies as T4P components about 5000 archaeal gene products, 56% of which are currently annotated as hypothetical in public databases. Combining results of this analysis with a comprehensive comparison of genomic neighborhoods of the T4P, we present models of organization of 10 most abundant variants of archaeal T4P. In addition to the differentiation between major and minor pilins, these models include extra components, such as S-layer proteins, adhesins and other membrane and intracellular proteins. For most of these systems, dedicated major pilin families are identified including numerous stand alone major pilin genes of the PilA family. Evidence is presented that secretion ATPases of the T4P and cognate TadC proteins can interact with different pilin sets. Modular evolution of T4P results in combinatorial variability of these systems. Potential regulatory or modulating proteins for the T4P are identified including KaiC family ATPases, vWA domain-containing proteins and the associated MoxR/GvpN ATPase, TFIIB homologs and multiple unrelated transcription regulators some of which are associated specific T4P. Phylogenomic analysis suggests that at least one T4P system was present in the last common ancestor of the extant archaea. Multiple cases of horizontal transfer and lineage-specific duplication of T4P loci were detected. Generally, the T4P of the archaeal TACK superphylum are more diverse and evolve notably faster than those of euryarchaea. The abundance and enormous diversity of T4P in hyperthermophilic archaea present a major enigma. Apparently, fundamental aspects of the biology of hyperthermophiles remain to be elucidated.
PMCID: PMC4858521  PMID: 27199977
type IV pili; archaea; evolution; comparative genomics; secretion ATPase
6.  ISC, a Novel Group of Bacterial and Archaeal DNA Transposons That Encode Cas9 Homologs 
Journal of Bacteriology  2016;198(5):797-807.
Bacterial genomes encode numerous homologs of Cas9, the effector protein of the type II CRISPR-Cas systems. The homology region includes the arginine-rich helix and the HNH nuclease domain that is inserted into the RuvC-like nuclease domain. These genes, however, are not linked to cas genes or CRISPR. Here, we show that Cas9 homologs represent a distinct group of nonautonomous transposons, which we denote ISC (insertion sequences Cas9-like). We identify many diverse families of full-length ISC transposons and demonstrate that their terminal sequences (particularly 3′ termini) are similar to those of IS605 superfamily transposons that are mobilized by the Y1 tyrosine transposase encoded by the TnpA gene and often also encode the TnpB protein containing the RuvC-like endonuclease domain. The terminal regions of the ISC and IS605 transposons contain palindromic structures that are likely recognized by the Y1 transposase. The transposons from these two groups are inserted either exactly in the middle or upstream of specific 4-bp target sites, without target site duplication. We also identify autonomous ISC transposons that encode TnpA-like Y1 transposases. Thus, the nonautonomous ISC transposons could be mobilized in trans either by Y1 transposases of other, autonomous ISC transposons or by Y1 transposases of the more abundant IS605 transposons. These findings imply an evolutionary scenario in which the ISC transposons evolved from IS605 family transposons, possibly via insertion of a mobile group II intron encoding the HNH domain, and Cas9 subsequently evolved via immobilization of an ISC transposon.
IMPORTANCE Cas9 endonucleases, the effectors of type II CRISPR-Cas systems, represent the new generation of genome-engineering tools. Here, we describe in detail a novel family of transposable elements that encode the likely ancestors of Cas9 and outline the evolutionary scenario connecting different varieties of these transposons and Cas9.
PMCID: PMC4810608  PMID: 26712934
7.  Recent Mobility of Casposons, Self-Synthesizing Transposons at the Origin of the CRISPR-Cas Immunity 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2016;8(2):375-386.
Casposons are a superfamily of putative self-synthesizing transposable elements that are predicted to employ a homolog of Cas1 protein as a recombinase and could have contributed to the origin of the CRISPR-Cas adaptive immunity systems in archaea and bacteria. Casposons remain uncharacterized experimentally, except for the recent demonstration of the integrase activity of the Cas1 homolog, and given their relative rarity in archaea and bacteria, original comparative genomic analysis has not provided direct indications of their mobility. Here, we report evidence of casposon mobility obtained by comparison of the genomes of 62 strains of the archaeon Methanosarcina mazei. In these genomes, casposons are variably inserted in three distinct sites indicative of multiple, recent gains, and losses. Some casposons are inserted into other mobile genetic elements that might provide vehicles for horizontal transfer of the casposons. Additionally, many M. mazei genomes contain previously undetected solo terminal inverted repeats that apparently are derived from casposons and could resemble intermediates in CRISPR evolution. We further demonstrate the sequence specificity of casposon insertion and note clear parallels with the adaptation mechanism of CRISPR-Cas. Finally, besides identifying additional representatives in each of the three originally defined families, we describe a new, fourth, family of casposons.
PMCID: PMC4779613  PMID: 26764427
casposons; self-synthesizing transposons; CRISPR-Cas; mobile genetic elements; transposition
8.  The evolutionary journey of Argonaute proteins 
Argonaute proteins are conserved throughout all domains of life. Recently characterized prokaryotic Argonaute proteins (pAgos) participate in host defense by DNA interference, whereas eukaryotic Argonaute proteins (eAgos) control a wide range of processes by RNA interference. Here we review molecular mechanisms of guide and target binding by Argonaute proteins, and describe how the conformational changes induced by target binding lead to target cleavage. On the basis of structural comparisons and phylogenetic analyses of pAgos and eAgos, we reconstruct the evolutionary journey of the Argonaute proteins through the three domains of life and discuss how different structural features of pAgos and eAgos relate to their distinct physiological roles.
PMCID: PMC4691850  PMID: 25192263
9.  Archaeology of Eukaryotic DNA Replication 
The archaeal DNA replication system shows an unexpected level of complexity. In fact, there is a close correspondence between components of the archaeal and eukaryotic replication systems.
Recent advances in the characterization of the archaeal DNA replication system together with comparative genomic analysis have led to the identification of several previously uncharacterized archaeal proteins involved in replication and currently reveal a nearly complete correspondence between the components of the archaeal and eukaryotic replication machineries. It can be inferred that the archaeal ancestor of eukaryotes and even the last common ancestor of all extant archaea possessed replication machineries that were comparable in complexity to the eukaryotic replication system. The eukaryotic replication system encompasses multiple paralogs of ancestral components such that heteromeric complexes in eukaryotes replace archaeal homomeric complexes, apparently along with subfunctionalization of the eukaryotic complex subunits. In the archaea, parallel, lineage-specific duplications of many genes encoding replication machinery components are detectable as well; most of these archaeal paralogs remain to be functionally characterized. The archaeal replication system shows remarkable plasticity whereby even some essential components such as DNA polymerase and single-stranded DNA-binding protein are displaced by unrelated proteins with analogous activities in some lineages.
PMCID: PMC3809583  PMID: 23881942
10.  A non-canonical multisubunit RNA polymerase encoded by a giant bacteriophage 
Nucleic Acids Research  2015;43(21):10411-10420.
The infection of Pseudomonas aeruginosa by the giant bacteriophage phiKZ is resistant to host RNA polymerase (RNAP) inhibitor rifampicin. phiKZ encodes two sets of polypeptides that are distantly related to fragments of the two largest subunits of cellular multisubunit RNAPs. Polypeptides of one set are encoded by middle phage genes and are found in the phiKZ virions. Polypeptides of the second set are encoded by early phage genes and are absent from virions. Here, we report isolation of a five-subunit RNAP from phiKZ-infected cells. Four subunits of this enzyme are cellular RNAP subunits homologs of the non-virion set; the fifth subunit is a protein of unknown function. In vitro, this complex initiates transcription from late phiKZ promoters in rifampicin-resistant manner. Thus, this enzyme is a non-virion phiKZ RNAP responsible for transcription of late phage genes. The phiKZ RNAP lacks identifiable assembly and promoter specificity subunits/factors characteristic for eukaryal, archaeal and bacterial RNAPs and thus provides a unique model for comparative analysis of the mechanism, regulation and evolution of this important class of enzymes.
PMCID: PMC4666361  PMID: 26490960
11.  In vivo genome editing using Staphylococcus aureus Cas9 
Nature  2015;520(7546):186-191.
The RNA-guided endonuclease Cas9 has emerged as a versatile genome-editing platform. However, the size of the commonly used Cas9 from Streptococcus pyogenes (SpCas9) limits its utility for basic research and therapeutic applications that employ the highly versatile adeno-associated virus (AAV) delivery vehicle. Here, we characterize six smaller Cas9 orthologs and show that Cas9 from Staphylococcus aureus (SaCas9) can edit the genome with efficiencies similar to those of SpCas9, while being >1kb shorter. We packaged SaCas9 and its sgRNA expression cassette into a single AAV vector and targeted the cholesterol regulatory gene Pcsk9 in the mouse liver. Within one week of injection, we observed >40% gene modification, accompanied by significant reductions in serum Pcsk9 and total cholesterol levels. We further demonstrate the power of using BLESS to assess the genome-wide targeting specificity of SaCas9 and SpCas9, and show that SaCas9 can mediate genome editing in vivo with high specificity.
PMCID: PMC4393360  PMID: 25830891
12.  Babela massiliensis, a representative of a widespread bacterial phylum with unusual adaptations to parasitism in amoebae 
Biology Direct  2015;10:13.
Only a small fraction of bacteria and archaea that are identifiable by metagenomics can be grown on standard media. Recent efforts on deep metagenomics sequencing, single-cell genomics and the use of specialized culture conditions (culturomics) increasingly yield novel microbes some of which represent previously uncharacterized phyla and possess unusual biological traits.
We report isolation and genome analysis of Babela massiliensis, an obligate intracellular parasite of Acanthamoeba castellanii. B. massiliensis shows an unusual, fission mode of cell multiplication whereby large, polymorphic bodies accumulate in the cytoplasm of infected amoeba and then split into mature bacterial cells. This unique mechanism of cell division is associated with a deep degradation of the cell division machinery and delayed expression of the ftsZ gene. The genome of B. massiliensis consists of a circular chromosome approximately 1.12 megabase in size that encodes, 981 predicted proteins, 38 tRNAs and one typical rRNA operon. Phylogenetic analysis shows that B. massiliensis belongs to the putative bacterial phylum TM6 that so far was represented by the draft genome of the JCVI TM6SC1 bacterium obtained by single cell genomics and numerous environmental sequences.
Currently, B. massiliensis is the only cultivated member of the putative TM6 phylum. Phylogenomic analysis shows diverse taxonomic affinities for B. massiliensis genes, suggestive of multiple gene acquisitions via horizontal transfer from other bacteria and eukaryotes. Horizontal gene transfer is likely to be facilitated by the cohabitation of diverse parasites and symbionts inside amoeba. B. massiliensis encompasses many genes encoding proteins implicated in parasite-host interaction including the greatest number of ankyrin repeats among sequenced bacteria and diverse proteins related to the ubiquitin system. Characterization of B. massiliensis, a representative of a distinct bacterial phylum, thanks to its ability to grow in amoeba, reaffirms the critical role of diverse culture approaches in microbiology.
This article was reviewed by Dr. Igor Zhulin, Dr. Jeremy Selengut, and Pr Martijn Huynen.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13062-015-0043-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4378268  PMID: 25884386
Intracellular bacteria; Amoeba; Bacterial replication
13.  Archaeal Clusters of Orthologous Genes (arCOGs): An Update and Application for Analysis of Shared Features between Thermococcales, Methanococcales, and Methanobacteriales 
Life  2015;5(1):818-840.
With the continuously accelerating genome sequencing from diverse groups of archaea and bacteria, accurate identification of gene orthology and availability of readily expandable clusters of orthologous genes are essential for the functional annotation of new genomes. We report an update of the collection of archaeal Clusters of Orthologous Genes (arCOGs) to cover, on average, 91% of the protein-coding genes in 168 archaeal genomes. The new arCOGs were constructed using refined algorithms for orthology identification combined with extensive manual curation, including incorporation of the results of several completed and ongoing research projects in archaeal genomics. A new level of classification is introduced, superclusters that unit two or more arCOGs and more completely reflect gene family evolution than individual, disconnected arCOGs. Assessment of the current archaeal genome annotation in public databases indicates that consistent use of arCOGs can significantly improve the annotation quality. In addition to their utility for genome annotation, arCOGs also are a platform for phylogenomic analysis. We explore this aspect of arCOGs by performing a phylogenomic study of the Thermococci that are traditionally viewed as the basal branch of the Euryarchaeota. The results of phylogenomic analysis that involved both comparison of multiple phylogenetic trees and a search for putative derived shared characters by using phyletic patterns extracted from the arCOGs reveal a likely evolutionary relationship between the Thermococci, Methanococci, and Methanobacteria. The arCOGs are expected to be instrumental for a comprehensive phylogenomic study of the archaea.
PMCID: PMC4390880  PMID: 25764277
arCOGs; genome annotation; phylogenomics; Thermococci; methanogens
14.  Evolution of plant δ1-pyrroline-5-carboxylate reductases from phylogenetic and structural perspectives 
Proline plays a crucial role in cell growth and stress responses, and its accumulation is essential for the tolerance of adverse environmental conditions in plants. Two routes are used to biosynthesize proline in plants. The main route uses glutamate as a precursor, while in the other route proline is derived from ornithine. The terminal step of both pathways, the conversion of δ1-pyrroline-5-carboxylate (P5C) to L-proline, is catalyzed by P5C reductase (P5CR) using NADH or NADPH as a cofactor. Since P5CRs are important housekeeping enzymes, they are conserved across all domains of life and appear to be relatively unaffected throughout evolution. However, global analysis of these enzymes unveiled significant functional diversity in the preference for cofactors (NADPH vs. NADH), variation in metal dependence and the differences in the oligomeric state. In our study we investigated evolutionary patterns through phylogenetic and structural analysis of P5CR representatives from all kingdoms of life, with emphasis on the plant species. We also attempted to correlate local sequence/structure variation among the functionally and structurally characterized members of the family.
PMCID: PMC4522605  PMID: 26284089
P5C reductase; phylogenetic analysis; 3-D structures of P5CRs; oligomer structure prediction; cofactor preference
15.  Expanded microbial genome coverage and improved protein family annotation in the COG database 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;43(Database issue):D261-D269.
Microbial genome sequencing projects produce numerous sequences of deduced proteins, only a small fraction of which have been or will ever be studied experimentally. This leaves sequence analysis as the only feasible way to annotate these proteins and assign to them tentative functions. The Clusters of Orthologous Groups of proteins (COGs) database (, first created in 1997, has been a popular tool for functional annotation. Its success was largely based on (i) its reliance on complete microbial genomes, which allowed reliable assignment of orthologs and paralogs for most genes; (ii) orthology-based approach, which used the function(s) of the characterized member(s) of the protein family (COG) to assign function(s) to the entire set of carefully identified orthologs and describe the range of potential functions when there were more than one; and (iii) careful manual curation of the annotation of the COGs, aimed at detailed prediction of the biological function(s) for each COG while avoiding annotation errors and overprediction. Here we present an update of the COGs, the first since 2003, and a comprehensive revision of the COG annotations and expansion of the genome coverage to include representative complete genomes from all bacterial and archaeal lineages down to the genus level. This re-analysis of the COGs shows that the original COG assignments had an error rate below 0.5% and allows an assessment of the progress in functional genomics in the past 12 years. During this time, functions of many previously uncharacterized COGs have been elucidated and tentative functional assignments of many COGs have been validated, either by targeted experiments or through the use of high-throughput methods. A particularly important development is the assignment of functions to several widespread, conserved proteins many of which turned out to participate in translation, in particular rRNA maturation and tRNA modification. The new version of the COGs is expected to become an important tool for microbial genomics.
PMCID: PMC4383993  PMID: 25428365
16.  Genome Sequence of the Radioresistant Bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans R1 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  1999;286(5444):1571-1577.
The complete genome sequence of the radiation resistant bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans R1 is composed of two chromosomes (2,648,615 and 412,340 basepairs), a megaplasmid (177,466 basepairs), and a small plasmid (45,702 basepairs) yielding a total genome of 3,284,123 basepairs. Multiple components distributed on the chromosomes and megaplasmid that contribute to the ability of D. radiodurans to survive under conditions of starvation, oxidative stress, and high levels of DNA-damage have been identified. D. radiodurans represents an organism in which all systems for DNA repair, DNA damage export, desiccation and starvation recovery, and genetic redundancy are present in one cell.
PMCID: PMC4147723  PMID: 10567266
17.  Dark matter in archaeal genomes: a rich source of novel mobile elements, defense systems and secretory complexes 
Extremophiles  2014;18(5):877-893.
Microbial genomes encompass a sizable fraction of poorly characterized, narrowly spread fast-evolving genes. Using sensitive methods for sequences comparison and protein structure prediction, we performed a detailed comparative analysis of clusters of such genes, which we denote “dark matter islands”, in archaeal genomes. The dark matter islands comprise up to 20 % of archaeal genomes and show remarkable heterogeneity and diversity. Nevertheless, three classes of entities are common in these genomic loci: (a) integrated viral genomes and other mobile elements; (b) defense systems, and (c) secretory and other membrane-associated systems. The dark matter islands in the genome of thermophiles and mesophiles show similar general trends of gene content, but thermophiles are substantially enriched in predicted membrane proteins whereas mesophiles have a greater proportion of recognizable mobile elements. Based on this analysis, we predict the existence of several novel groups of viruses and mobile elements, previously unnoticed variants of CRISPR-Cas immune systems, and new secretory systems that might be involved in stress response, intermicrobial conflicts and biogenesis of novel, uncharacterized membrane structures.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00792-014-0672-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4158269  PMID: 25113822
Archaeal genomes; ORFans; Genomic islands; Integration; Viruses; Defense
18.  Evolution of replicative DNA polymerases in archaea and their contributions to the eukaryotic replication machinery 
The elaborate eukaryotic DNA replication machinery evolved from the archaeal ancestors that themselves show considerable complexity. Here we discuss the comparative genomic and phylogenetic analysis of the core replication enzymes, the DNA polymerases, in archaea and their relationships with the eukaryotic polymerases. In archaea, there are three groups of family B DNA polymerases, historically known as PolB1, PolB2 and PolB3. All three groups appear to descend from the last common ancestors of the extant archaea but their subsequent evolutionary trajectories seem to have been widely different. Although PolB3 is present in all archaea, with the exception of Thaumarchaeota, and appears to be directly involved in lagging strand replication, the evolution of this gene does not follow the archaeal phylogeny, conceivably due to multiple horizontal transfers and/or dramatic differences in evolutionary rates. In contrast, PolB1 is missing in Euryarchaeota but otherwise seems to have evolved vertically. The third archaeal group of family B polymerases, PolB2, includes primarily proteins in which the catalytic centers of the polymerase and exonuclease domains are disrupted and accordingly the enzymes appear to be inactivated. The members of the PolB2 group are scattered across archaea and might be involved in repair or regulation of replication along with inactivated members of the RadA family ATPases and an additional, uncharacterized protein that are encoded within the same predicted operon. In addition to the family B polymerases, all archaea, with the exception of the Crenarchaeota, encode enzymes of a distinct family D the origin of which is unclear. We examine multiple considerations that appear compatible with the possibility that family D polymerases are highly derived homologs of family B. The eukaryotic DNA polymerases show a highly complex relationship with their archaeal ancestors including contributions of proteins and domains from both the family B and the family D archaeal polymerases.
PMCID: PMC4104785  PMID: 25101062
DNA replication; archaea; mobile genetic elements; DNA polymerases; enzyme inactivation
19.  Casposons: a new superfamily of self-synthesizing DNA transposons at the origin of prokaryotic CRISPR-Cas immunity 
BMC Biology  2014;12:36.
Diverse transposable elements are abundant in genomes of cellular organisms from all three domains of life. Although transposons are often regarded as junk DNA, a growing body of evidence indicates that they are behind some of the major evolutionary innovations. With the growth in the number and diversity of sequenced genomes, previously unnoticed mobile elements continue to be discovered.
We describe a new superfamily of archaeal and bacterial mobile elements which we denote casposons because they encode Cas1 endonuclease, a key enzyme of the CRISPR-Cas adaptive immunity systems of archaea and bacteria. The casposons share several features with self-synthesizing eukaryotic DNA transposons of the Polinton/Maverick class, including terminal inverted repeats and genes for B family DNA polymerases. However, unlike any other known mobile elements, the casposons are predicted to rely on Cas1 for integration and excision, via a mechanism similar to the integration of new spacers into CRISPR loci. We identify three distinct families of casposons that differ in their gene repertoires and evolutionary provenance of the DNA polymerases. Deep branching of the casposon-encoded endonuclease in the Cas1 phylogeny suggests that casposons played a pivotal role in the emergence of CRISPR-Cas immunity.
The casposons are a novel superfamily of mobile elements, the first family of putative self-synthesizing transposons discovered in prokaryotes. The likely contribution of capsosons to the evolution of CRISPR-Cas parallels the involvement of the RAG1 transposase in vertebrate immunoglobulin gene rearrangement, suggesting that recruitment of endonucleases from mobile elements as ready-made tools for genome manipulation is a general route of evolution of adaptive immunity.
PMCID: PMC4046053  PMID: 24884953
Mobile genetic elements; CRISPR-Cas system; Adaptive immunity; Transposons; Archaea; DNA polymerases
20.  Enzymatic Synthesis of Bioinformatically Predicted Microcin C-Like Compounds Encoded by Diverse Bacteria 
mBio  2014;5(3):e01059-14.
The Trojan horse Escherichia coli antibiotic microcin C (McC) consists of a heptapeptide attached to adenosine through a phosphoramidate linkage. McC is synthesized by the MccB enzyme, which terminally adenylates the ribosomally synthesized heptapeptide precursor MccA. The peptide part is responsible for McC uptake; it is degraded inside the cell to release a toxic nonhydrolyzable aspartyl-adenylate. Bionformatic analysis reveals that diverse bacterial genomes encoding mccB homologues also contain adjacent short open reading frames that may encode MccA-like adenylation substrates. Using chemically synthesized predicted peptide substrates and recombinant cognate MccB protein homologs, adenylated products were obtained in vitro for predicted MccA peptide-MccB enzyme pairs from Helicobacter pylori, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactococcus johnsonii, Bartonella washoensis, Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, and Synechococcus sp. Some adenylated products were shown to inhibit the growth of E. coli by targeting aspartyl-tRNA synthetase, the target of McC.
Our results prove that McC-like adenylated peptides are widespread and are encoded by both Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria and by cyanobacteria, opening ways for analyses of physiological functions of these compounds and for creation of microcin C-like antibiotics targeting various bacteria.
PMCID: PMC4010828  PMID: 24803518
21.  CRISPR-Cas 
RNA Biology  2013;10(5):679-686.
The CRISPR-Cas (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, CRISPR-associated genes) is an adaptive immunity system in bacteria and archaea that functions via a distinct self-non-self recognition mechanism that is partially analogous to the mechanism of eukaryotic RNA interference (RNAi). The CRISPR-Cas system incorporates fragments of virus or plasmid DNA into the CRISPR repeat cassettes and employs the processed transcripts of these spacers as guide RNAs to cleave the cognate foreign DNA or RNA. The Cas proteins, however, are not homologous to the proteins involved in RNAi and comprise numerous, highly diverged families. The majority of the Cas proteins contain diverse variants of the RNA recognition motif (RRM), a widespread RNA-binding domain. Despite the fast evolution that is typical of the cas genes, the presence of diverse versions of the RRM in most Cas proteins provides for a simple scenario for the evolution of the three distinct types of CRISPR-cas systems. In addition to several proteins that are directly implicated in the immune response, the cas genes encode a variety of proteins that are homologous to prokaryotic toxins that typically possess nuclease activity. The predicted toxins associated with CRISPR-Cas systems include the essential Cas2 protein, proteins of COG1517 that, in addition to a ligand-binding domain and a helix-turn-helix domain, typically contain different nuclease domains and several other predicted nucleases. The tight association of the CRISPR-Cas immunity systems with predicted toxins that, upon activation, would induce dormancy or cell death suggests that adaptive immunity and dormancy/suicide response are functionally coupled. Such coupling could manifest in the persistence state being induced and potentially providing conditions for more effective action of the immune system or in cell death being triggered when immunity fails.
PMCID: PMC3737325  PMID: 23439366
CRISPR-Cas; adaptive immunity; innate immunity; programmed cell death; dormancy; RRM domain
22.  CARF and WYL domains: ligand-binding regulators of prokaryotic defense systems 
Frontiers in Genetics  2014;5:102.
CRISPR-Cas adaptive immunity systems of bacteria and archaea insert fragments of virus or plasmid DNA as spacer sequences into CRISPR repeat loci. Processed transcripts encompassing these spacers guide the cleavage of the cognate foreign DNA or RNA. Most CRISPR-Cas loci, in addition to recognized cas genes, also include genes that are not directly implicated in spacer acquisition, CRISPR transcript processing or interference. Here we comprehensively analyze sequences, structures and genomic neighborhoods of one of the most widespread groups of such genes that encode proteins containing a predicted nucleotide-binding domain with a Rossmann-like fold, which we denote CARF (CRISPR-associated Rossmann fold). Several CARF protein structures have been determined but functional characterization of these proteins is lacking. The CARF domain is most frequently combined with a C-terminal winged helix-turn-helix DNA-binding domain and “effector” domains most of which are predicted to possess DNase or RNase activity. Divergent CARF domains are also found in RtcR proteins, sigma-54 dependent regulators of the rtc RNA repair operon. CARF genes frequently co-occur with those coding for proteins containing the WYL domain with the Sm-like SH3 β-barrel fold, which is also predicted to bind ligands. CRISPR-Cas and possibly other defense systems are predicted to be transcriptionally regulated by multiple ligand-binding proteins containing WYL and CARF domains which sense modified nucleotides and nucleotide derivatives generated during virus infection. We hypothesize that CARF domains also transmit the signal from the bound ligand to the fused effector domains which attack either alien or self nucleic acids, resulting, respectively, in immunity complementing the CRISPR-Cas action or in dormancy/programmed cell death.
PMCID: PMC4012209  PMID: 24817877
CRISPR; Rossmann fold; beta barrel; DNA-binding proteins; phage defense
23.  Classification and evolution of type II CRISPR-Cas systems 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(10):6091-6105.
The CRISPR-Cas systems of archaeal and bacterial adaptive immunity are classified into three types that differ by the repertoires of CRISPR-associated (cas) genes, the organization of cas operons and the structure of repeats in the CRISPR arrays. The simplest among the CRISPR-Cas systems is type II in which the endonuclease activities required for the interference with foreign deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) are concentrated in a single multidomain protein, Cas9, and are guided by a co-processed dual-tracrRNA:crRNA molecule. This compact enzymatic machinery and readily programmable site-specific DNA targeting make type II systems top candidates for a new generation of powerful tools for genomic engineering. Here we report an updated census of CRISPR-Cas systems in bacterial and archaeal genomes. Type II systems are the rarest, missing in archaea, and represented in ∼5% of bacterial genomes, with an over-representation among pathogens and commensals. Phylogenomic analysis suggests that at least three cas genes, cas1, cas2 and cas4, and the CRISPR repeats of the type II-B system were acquired via recombination with a type I CRISPR-Cas locus. Distant homologs of Cas9 were identified among proteins encoded by diverse transposons, suggesting that type II CRISPR-Cas evolved via recombination of mobile nuclease genes with type I loci.
PMCID: PMC4041416  PMID: 24728998
24.  Phylogeny of Cas9 determines functional exchangeability of dual-RNA and Cas9 among orthologous type II CRISPR-Cas systems 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;42(4):2577-2590.
The CRISPR-Cas-derived RNA-guided Cas9 endonuclease is the key element of an emerging promising technology for genome engineering in a broad range of cells and organisms. The DNA-targeting mechanism of the type II CRISPR-Cas system involves maturation of tracrRNA:crRNA duplex (dual-RNA), which directs Cas9 to cleave invading DNA in a sequence-specific manner, dependent on the presence of a Protospacer Adjacent Motif (PAM) on the target. We show that evolution of dual-RNA and Cas9 in bacteria produced remarkable sequence diversity. We selected eight representatives of phylogenetically defined type II CRISPR-Cas groups to analyze possible coevolution of Cas9 and dual-RNA. We demonstrate that these two components are interchangeable only between closely related type II systems when the PAM sequence is adjusted to the investigated Cas9 protein. Comparison of the taxonomy of bacterial species that harbor type II CRISPR-Cas systems with the Cas9 phylogeny corroborates horizontal transfer of the CRISPR-Cas loci. The reported collection of dual-RNA:Cas9 with associated PAMs expands the possibilities for multiplex genome editing and could provide means to improve the specificity of the RNA-programmable Cas9 tool.
PMCID: PMC3936727  PMID: 24270795
25.  Structural and functional characterization of microcin C resistance peptidase MccF from Bacillus anthracis 
Journal of molecular biology  2012;420(0):366-383.
Microcin C (McC) is heptapeptide-adenylate antibiotic produced by Escherichia coli strains carrying the mccABCDEF gene cluster encoding enzymes, in addition to the heptapeptide structural gene mccA, necessary for McC biosynthesis and self-immunity of the producing cell. The heptapeptide facilitates McC transport into susceptible cells, where it is processed releasing a non-hydrolyzable aminoacyl adenylate that inhibits an essential aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase. The self-immunity gene mccF encodes a specialized serine-peptidase that cleaves an amide bond connecting the peptidyl or aminoacyl moieties of, respectively, intact and processed McC with the nucleotidyl moiety. Most mccF orthologs from organisms other than E. coli are not linked to the McC biosynthesis gene cluster. Here, we show that a protein product of one such gene, MccF from Bacillus anthracis (BaMccF), is able to cleave intact and processed McC and we present a series of structures of this protein. Structural analysis of apo-BaMccF and its AMP-complex reveal specific features of MccF-like peptidases that allow them to interact with substrates containing nucleotidyl moieties. Sequence analyses and phylogenetic reconstructions suggest that several distinct subfamilies form the MccF clade of the large S66 family of bacterial serine peptidases. We show that various representatives of the MccF clade can specifically detoxify non-hydrolyzable aminoacyl adenylates differing in their aminoacyl moieties. We hypothesize that bacterial mccF genes serve as a source of bacterial antibiotic resistance.
PMCID: PMC3690760  PMID: 22516613
MccF; serine peptidase; nucleophilic elbow; catalytic triad (Ser-His-Glu); substrate binding loop

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