• CRISPR-Cas Systems and the Paradox of Self-Targeting Spacers.

      Wimmer, Franziska; Beisel, Chase L; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Frontiers, 2019-01-01)
      CRISPR-Cas immune systems in bacteria and archaea record prior infections as spacers within each system's CRISPR arrays. Spacers are normally derived from invasive genetic material and direct the immune system to complementary targets as part of future infections. However, not all spacers appear to be derived from foreign genetic material and instead can originate from the host genome. Their presence poses a paradox, as self-targeting spacers would be expected to induce an autoimmune response and cell death. In this review, we discuss the known frequency of self-targeting spacers in natural CRISPR-Cas systems, how these spacers can be incorporated into CRISPR arrays, and how the host can evade lethal attack. We also discuss how self-targeting spacers can become the basis for alternative functions performed by CRISPR-Cas systems that extend beyond adaptive immunity. Overall, the acquisition of genome-targeting spacers poses a substantial risk but can aid in the host's evolution and potentially lead to or support new functionalities.
    • An enhanced assay to characterize anti-CRISPR proteins using a cell-free transcription-translation system.

      Wandera, Katharina G; Collins, Scott P; Wimmer, Franziska; Marshall, Ryan; Noireaux, Vincent; Beisel, Chase L; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Elsevier, 2019-05-21)
      The characterization of CRISPR-Cas immune systems in bacteria was quickly followed by the discovery of anti-CRISPR proteins (Acrs) in bacteriophages. These proteins block different steps of CRISPR-based immunity and, as some inhibit Cas nucleases, can offer tight control over CRISPR technologies. While Acrs have been identified against a few CRISPR-Cas systems, likely many more await discovery and application. Here, we report a rapid and scalable method for characterizing putative Acrs against Cas nucleases using an E. coli-derived cell-free transcription-translation system. Using known Acrs against type II Cas9 nucleases as models, we demonstrate how the method can be used to measure the inhibitory activity of individual Acrs in under two days. We also show how the method can overcome non-specific inhibition of gene expression observed for some Acrs. In total, the method should accelerate the interrogation and application of Acrs as CRISPR-Cas inhibitors.