• Modular one-pot assembly of CRISPR arrays enables library generation and reveals factors influencing crRNA biogenesis.

      Liao, Chunyu; Ttofali, Fani; Slotkowski, Rebecca A; Denny, Steven R; Cecil, Taylor D; Leenay, Ryan T; Keung, Albert J; Beisel, Chase L; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Springer-Nature, 2019-07-03)
      CRISPR-Cas systems inherently multiplex through CRISPR arrays—whether to defend against different invaders or mediate multi-target editing, regulation, imaging, or sensing. However, arrays remain difficult to generate due to their reoccurring repeat sequences. Here, we report a modular, one-pot scheme called CRATES to construct CRISPR arrays and array libraries. CRATES allows assembly of repeat-spacer subunits using defined assembly junctions within the trimmed portion of spacers. Using CRATES, we construct arrays for the single-effector nucleases Cas9, Cas12a, and Cas13a that mediated multiplexed DNA/RNA cleavage and gene regulation in cell-free systems, bacteria, and yeast. CRATES further allows the one-pot construction of array libraries and composite arrays utilized by multiple Cas nucleases. Finally, array characterization reveals processing of extraneous CRISPR RNAs from Cas12a terminal repeats and sequence- and context-dependent loss of RNA-directed nuclease activity via global RNA structure formation. CRATES thus can facilitate diverse multiplexing applications and help identify factors impacting crRNA biogenesis.
    • Barriers to genome editing with CRISPR in bacteria.

      Vento, Justin M; Crook, Nathan; Beisel, Chase L; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Springer, 2019-06-05)
      Genome editing is essential for probing genotype-phenotype relationships and for enhancing chemical production and phenotypic robustness in industrial bacteria. Currently, the most popular tools for genome editing couple recombineering with DNA cleavage by the CRISPR nuclease Cas9 from Streptococcus pyogenes. Although successful in some model strains, CRISPR-based genome editing has been slow to extend to the multitude of industrially relevant bacteria. In this review, we analyze existing barriers to implementing CRISPR-based editing across diverse bacterial species. We first compare the efficacy of current CRISPR-based editing strategies. Next, we discuss alternatives when the S. pyogenes Cas9 does not yield colonies. Finally, we describe different ways bacteria can evade editing and how elucidating these failure modes can improve CRISPR-based genome editing across strains. Together, this review highlights existing obstacles to CRISPR-based editing in bacteria and offers guidelines to help achieve and enhance editing in a wider range of bacterial species, including non-model strains.
    • 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.
    • Distinct timescales of RNA regulators enable the construction of a genetic pulse generator.

      Westbrook, Alexandra; Tang, Xun; Marshall, Ryan; Maxwell, Colin S; Chappell, James; Agrawal, Deepak K; Dunlop, Mary J; Noireaux, Vincent; Beisel, Chase L; Lucks, Julius; et al. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2019-01-13)
      To build complex genetic networks with predictable behaviours, synthetic biologists use libraries of modular parts that can be characterized in isolation and assembled together to create programmable higher-order functions. Characterization experiments and computational models for gene regulatory parts operating in isolation are routinely employed to predict the dynamics of interconnected parts and guide the construction of new synthetic devices. Here, we individually characterize two modes of RNA-based transcriptional regulation, using small transcription activating RNAs (STARs) and CRISPR interference (CRISPRi), and show how their distinct regulatory timescales can be used to engineer a composed feedforward loop that creates a pulse of gene expression. We use a cell-free transcription-translation system (TXTL) to rapidly characterize the system, and we apply Bayesian inference to extract kinetic parameters for an ODE-based mechanistic model. We then demonstrate in simulation and verify with TXTL experiments that the simultaneous regulation of a single gene target with STARs and CRISPRi leads to a pulse of gene expression. Our results suggest the modularity of the two regulators in an integrated genetic circuit, and we anticipate that construction and modelling frameworks that can leverage this modularity will become increasingly important as synthetic circuits increase in complexity. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    • The Francisella novicida Cas12a is sensitive to the structure downstream of the terminal repeat in CRISPR arrays.

      Liao, Chunyu; Slotkowski, Rebecca A; Achmedov, Tatjana; Beisel, Chase L; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (2018-10-12)
      The Class 2 Type V-A CRISPR effector protein Cas12a/Cpf1 has gained widespread attention in part because of the ease in achieving multiplexed genome editing, gene regulation, and DNA detection. Multiplexing derives from the ability of Cas12a alone to generate multiple guide RNAs from a transcribed CRISPR array encoding alternating conserved repeats and targeting spacers. While array design has focused on how to optimize guide-RNA sequences, little attention has been paid to sequences outside of the CRISPR array. Here, we show that a structured hairpin located immediately downstream of the 3' repeat interferes with utilization of the adjacent encoded guide RNA by Francisella novicida (Fn)Cas12a. We first observed that a synthetic Rho-independent terminator immediately downstream of an array impaired DNA cleavage based on plasmid clearance in E. coli and DNA cleavage in a cell-free transcription-translation (TXTL) system. TXTL-based cleavage assays further revealed that inhibition was associated with incomplete processing of the transcribed CRISPR array and could be attributed to the stable hairpin formed by the terminator. We also found that the inhibitory effect partially extended to upstream spacers in a multi-spacer array. Finally, we found that removing the terminal repeat from the array increased the inhibitory effect, while replacing this repeat with an unprocessable terminal repeat from a native FnCas12a array restored cleavage activity directed by the adjacent encoded guide RNA. Our study thus revealed that sequences surrounding a CRISPR array can interfere with the function of a CRISPR nuclease, with implications for the design and evolution of CRISPR arrays.
    • Bacterial Adaptation to the Host's Diet Is a Key Evolutionary Force Shaping Drosophila-Lactobacillus Symbiosis.

      Martino, Maria Elena; Joncour, Pauline; Leenay, Ryan; Gervais, Hugo; Shah, Malay; Hughes, Sandrine; Gillet, Benjamin; Beisel, Chase; Leulier, François; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Elsevier, 2018-07-11)
      Animal-microbe facultative symbioses play a fundamental role in ecosystem and organismal health. Yet, due to the flexible nature of their association, the selection pressures that act on animals and their facultative symbionts remain elusive. Here we apply experimental evolution to Drosophila melanogaster associated with its growth-promoting symbiont Lactobacillus plantarum, representing a well-established model of facultative symbiosis. We find that the diet of the host, rather than the host itself, is a predominant driving force in the evolution of this symbiosis. Furthermore, we identify a mechanism resulting from the bacterium's adaptation to the diet, which confers growth benefits to the colonized host. Our study reveals that bacterial adaptation to the host's diet may be the foremost step in determining the evolutionary course of a facultative animal-microbe symbiosis.
    • CRISPR RNA-Dependent Binding and Cleavage of Endogenous RNAs by the Campylobacter jejuni Cas9.

      Dugar, Gaurav; Leenay, Ryan T; Eisenbart, Sara K; Bischler, Thorsten; Aul, Belinda U; Beisel, Chase L; Sharma, Cynthia M; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Elsevier/ Cel Press, 2018-03-01)
      Cas9 nucleases naturally utilize CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) to silence foreign double-stranded DNA. While recent work has shown that some Cas9 nucleases can also target RNA, RNA recognition has required nuclease modifications or accessory factors. Here, we show that the Campylobacter jejuni Cas9 (CjCas9) can bind and cleave complementary endogenous mRNAs in a crRNA-dependent manner. Approximately 100 transcripts co-immunoprecipitated with CjCas9 and generally can be subdivided through their base-pairing potential to the four crRNAs. A subset of these RNAs was cleaved around or within the predicted binding site. Mutational analyses revealed that RNA binding was crRNA and tracrRNA dependent and that target RNA cleavage required the CjCas9 HNH domain. We further observed that RNA cleavage was PAM independent, improved with greater complementarity between the crRNA and the RNA target, and was programmable in vitro. These findings suggest that C. jejuni Cas9 is a promiscuous nuclease that can coordinately target both DNA and RNA.