• 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.