• Characterization of Cas12a nucleases reveals diverse PAM profiles between closely-related orthologs.

      Jacobsen, Thomas; Ttofali, Fani; Liao, Chunyu; Manchalu, Srinivas; Gray, Benjamin N; Beisel, Chase L; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (2020-07-27)
      CRISPR-Cas systems comprise diverse adaptive immune systems in prokaryotes whose RNA-directed nucleases have been co-opted for various technologies. Recent efforts have focused on expanding the number of known CRISPR-Cas subtypes to identify nucleases with novel properties. However, the functional diversity of nucleases within each subtype remains poorly explored. Here, we used cell-free transcription-translation systems and human cells to characterize six Cas12a single-effector nucleases from the V-A subtype, including nucleases sharing high sequence identity. While these nucleases readily utilized each other's guide RNAs, they exhibited distinct PAM profiles and apparent targeting activities that did not track based on phylogeny. In particular, two Cas12a nucleases encoded by Prevotella ihumii (PiCas12a) and Prevotella disiens (PdCas12a) shared over 95% amino-acid identity yet recognized distinct PAM profiles, with PiCas12a but not PdCas12a accommodating multiple G's in PAM positions -2 through -4 and T in position -1. Mutational analyses transitioning PiCas12a to PdCas12a resulted in PAM profiles distinct from either nuclease, allowing more flexible editing in human cells. Cas12a nucleases therefore can exhibit widely varying properties between otherwise related orthologs, suggesting selective pressure to diversify PAM recognition and supporting expansion of the CRISPR toolbox through ortholog mining and PAM engineering.
    • A detailed cell-free transcription-translation-based assay to decipher CRISPR protospacer-adjacent motifs.

      Maxwell, Colin S; Jacobsen, Thomas; Marshall, Ryan; Noireaux, Vincent; Beisel, Chase L; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Elsevier, 2018-02-24)
      The RNA-guided nucleases derived from the CRISPR-Cas systems in bacteria and archaea have found numerous applications in biotechnology, including genome editing, imaging, and gene regulation. However, the discovery of novel Cas nucleases has outpaced their characterization and subsequent exploitation. A key step in characterizing Cas nucleases is determining which protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM) sequences they recognize. Here, we report advances to an in vitro method based on an E. coli cell-free transcription-translation system (TXTL) to rapidly elucidate PAMs recognized by Cas nucleases. The method obviates the need for cloning Cas nucleases or gRNAs, does not require the purification of protein or RNA, and can be performed in less than a day. To advance our previously published method, we incorporated an internal GFP cleavage control to assess the extent of library cleavage as well as Sanger sequencing of the cleaved library to assess PAM depletion prior to next-generation sequencing. We also detail the methods needed to construct all relevant DNA constructs, and how to troubleshoot the assay. We finally demonstrate the technique by determining PAM sequences recognized by the Neisseria meningitidis Cas9, revealing subtle sequence requirements of this highly specific PAM. The overall method offers a rapid means to identify PAMs recognized by diverse CRISPR nucleases, with the potential to greatly accelerate our ability to characterize and harness novel CRISPR nucleases across their many uses.
    • Tunable self-cleaving ribozymes for modulating gene expression in eukaryotic systems.

      Jacobsen, Thomas; Yi, Gloria; Al Asafen, Hadel; Jermusyk, Ashley A; Beisel, Chase L; Reeves, Gregory T; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (PLOS, 2020-04-30)
      Advancements in the field of synthetic biology have been possible due to the development of genetic tools that are able to regulate gene expression. However, the current toolbox of gene regulatory tools for eukaryotic systems have been outpaced by those developed for simple, single-celled systems. Here, we engineered a set of gene regulatory tools by combining self-cleaving ribozymes with various upstream competing sequences that were designed to disrupt ribozyme self-cleavage. As a proof-of-concept, we were able to modulate GFP expression in mammalian cells, and then showed the feasibility of these tools in Drosophila embryos. For each system, the fold-reduction of gene expression was influenced by the location of the self-cleaving ribozyme/upstream competing sequence (i.e. 5' vs. 3' untranslated region) and the competing sequence used. Together, this work provides a set of genetic tools that can be used to tune gene expression across various eukaryotic systems.