• 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.
    • 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.
    • CRISPR technologies and the search for the PAM-free nuclease.

      Collias, Daphne; Beisel, Chase L; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Nature Pulishing Group, 2021-01-22)
      The ever-expanding set of CRISPR technologies and their programmable RNA-guided nucleases exhibit remarkable flexibility in DNA targeting. However, this flexibility comes with an ever-present constraint: the requirement for a protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) flanking each target. While PAMs play an essential role in self/nonself discrimination by CRISPR-Cas immune systems, this constraint has launched a far-reaching expedition for nucleases with relaxed PAM requirements. Here, we review ongoing efforts toward realizing PAM-free nucleases through natural ortholog mining and protein engineering. We also address potential consequences of fully eliminating PAM recognition and instead propose an alternative nuclease repertoire covering all possible PAM sequences.
    • 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.
    • 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).
    • 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.
    • 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.