• 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.
    • A genetically encoded anti-CRISPR protein constrains gene drive spread and prevents population suppression.

      Taxiarchi, Chrysanthi; Beaghton, Andrea; Don, Nayomi Illansinhage; Kyrou, Kyros; Gribble, Matthew; Shittu, Dammy; Collins, Scott P; Beisel, Chase L; Galizi, Roberto; Crisanti, Andrea; et al. (Nature research, 2021-06-25)
      CRISPR-based gene drives offer promising means to reduce the burden of pests and vector-borne diseases. These techniques consist of releasing genetically modified organisms carrying CRISPR-Cas nucleases designed to bias their inheritance and rapidly propagate desired modifications. Gene drives can be intended to reduce reproductive capacity of harmful insects or spread anti-pathogen effectors through wild populations, even when these confer fitness disadvantages. Technologies capable of halting the spread of gene drives may prove highly valuable in controlling, counteracting, and even reverting their effect on individual organisms as well as entire populations. Here we show engineering and testing of a genetic approach, based on the germline expression of a phage-derived anti-CRISPR protein (AcrIIA4), able to inactivate CRISPR-based gene drives and restore their inheritance to Mendelian rates in the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae. Modeling predictions and cage testing show that a single release of male mosquitoes carrying the AcrIIA4 protein can block the spread of a highly effective suppressive gene drive preventing population collapse of caged malaria mosquitoes.
    • Growth-uncoupled isoprenoid synthesis in Rhodobacter sphaeroides.

      Orsi, Enrico; Mougiakos, Ioannis; Post, Wilbert; Beekwilder, Jules; Dompè, Marco; Eggink, Gerrit; van der Oost, John; Kengen, Servé W M; Weusthuis, Ruud A; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (BMC, 2020-07-13)
      Microbial cell factories are usually engineered and employed for cultivations that combine product synthesis with growth. Such a strategy inevitably invests part of the substrate pool towards the generation of biomass and cellular maintenance. Hence, engineering strains for the formation of a specific product under non-growth conditions would allow to reach higher product yields. In this respect, isoprenoid biosynthesis represents an extensively studied example of growth-coupled synthesis with rather unexplored potential for growth-independent production. Rhodobacter sphaeroides is a model bacterium for isoprenoid biosynthesis, either via the native 2-methyl-d-erythritol 4-phosphate (MEP) pathway or the heterologous mevalonate (MVA) pathway, and for poly-β-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) biosynthesis.
    • Methods for characterizing, applying, and teaching CRISPR-Cas systems.

      Beisel, Chase L; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Elsevier, 2020-01-16)
      New drugs are desperately needed to combat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections. Here, we report screening commercial kinase inhibitors for antibacterial activity and found the anticancer drug sorafenib as major hit that effec-tively kills MRSA strains. Varying the key structural features led to the identification of a potent analogue, PK150, that showed antibacterial activity against several pathogenic strains at submicromolar concentrations. Furthermore, this antibiotic eliminated challenging persisters as well as established biofilms. PK150 holds promising therapeutic potential as it did not induce in vitro resistance, and shows oral bioavailability and in vivo efficacy. Analysis of the mode of action using chemical proteomics revealed several targets, which included interference with menaquinone biosynthesis by inhibiting demethylmenaquinone methyltrans-ferase and the stimulation of protein secretion by altering the activity of signal peptidase IB. Reduced endogenous menaquinone levels along with enhanced levels of extracellular proteins of PK150-treated bacteria support this target hypothesis. The associ-ated antibiotic effects, especially the lack of resistance development, probably stem from the compound’s polypharmacology.
    • 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.
    • A positive, growth-based PAM screen identifies noncanonical motifs recognized by the S. pyogenes Cas9.

      Collias, D; Leenay, R T; Slotkowski, R A; Zuo, Z; Collins, S P; McGirr, B A; Liu, J; Beisel, C L; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (AAAS, 2020-07-15)
      CRISPR technologies have overwhelmingly relied on the Streptococcus pyogenes Cas9 (SpyCas9), with its consensus NGG and less preferred NAG and NGA protospacer-adjacent motifs (PAMs). Here, we report that SpyCas9 also recognizes sequences within an N(A/C/T)GG motif. These sequences were identified on the basis of preferential enrichment in a growth-based screen in Escherichia coli. DNA binding, cleavage, and editing assays in bacteria and human cells validated recognition, with activities paralleling those for NAG(A/C/T) PAMs and dependent on the first two PAM positions. Molecular-dynamics simulations and plasmid-clearance assays with mismatch-intolerant variants supported induced-fit recognition of an extended PAM by SpyCas9 rather than recognition of NGG with a bulged R-loop. Last, the editing location for SpyCas9-derived base editors could be shifted by one nucleotide by selecting between (C/T)GG and adjacent N(C/T)GG PAMs. SpyCas9 and its enhanced variants thus recognize a larger repertoire of PAMs, with implications for precise editing, off-target predictions, and CRISPR-based immunity.
    • Rapid Testing of CRISPR Nucleases and Guide RNAs in an Cell-Free Transcription-Translation System.

      Marshall, Ryan; Beisel, Chase L; Noireaux, Vincent; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Elsevier (CellPress), 2020-06-03)
      We present a protocol to rapidly test DNA binding and cleavage activity by CRISPR nucleases using cell-free transcription-translation (TXTL). Nuclease activity is assessed by adding DNA encoding a nuclease, a guide RNA, and a targeted reporter to a TXTL reaction and by measuring the fluorescence for several h. The reactions, performed in a few microliters, allow for parallel testing of many nucleases and guide RNAs. The protocol includes representative results for (d)Cas9 from Streptococcus pyogenes targeting a GFP reporter gene. For complete information on the generation and use of this protocol, please refer to the paper by Marshall et al. (2018).
    • Sequence-independent RNA sensing and DNA targeting by a split domain CRISPR-Cas12a gRNA switch.

      Collins, Scott P; Rostain, William; Liao, Chunyu; Beisel, Chase L; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Oxgord Uiversity Press, 2021-02-22)
      CRISPR technologies increasingly require spatiotemporal and dosage control of nuclease activity. One promising strategy involves linking nuclease activity to a cell's transcriptional state by engineering guide RNAs (gRNAs) to function only after complexing with a 'trigger' RNA. However, standard gRNA switch designs do not allow independent selection of trigger and guide sequences, limiting gRNA switch application. Here, we demonstrate the modular design of Cas12a gRNA switches that decouples selection of these sequences. The 5' end of the Cas12a gRNA is fused to two distinct and non-overlapping domains: one base pairs with the gRNA repeat, blocking formation of a hairpin required for Cas12a recognition; the other hybridizes to the RNA trigger, stimulating refolding of the gRNA repeat and subsequent gRNA-dependent Cas12a activity. Using a cell-free transcription-translation system and Escherichia coli, we show that designed gRNA switches can respond to different triggers and target different DNA sequences. Modulating the length and composition of the sensory domain altered gRNA switch performance. Finally, gRNA switches could be designed to sense endogenous RNAs expressed only under specific growth conditions, rendering Cas12a targeting activity dependent on cellular metabolism and stress. Our design framework thus further enables tethering of CRISPR activities to cellular states.
    • 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.
    • Your Base Editor Might Be Flirting with Single (Stranded) DNA: Faithful On-Target CRISPR Base Editing without Promiscuous Deamination.

      Collins, Scott P; Beisel, Chase L; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Elsevier, 2020-09-03)
      Jin et al. (2020) engineered new variants of CRISPR base editors that make precise genomic edits in rice protoplasts while minimizing untargeted mutagenesis.