1887

Abstract

Lactobacillus gasseri is a human commensal which carries CRISPR-Cas, an adaptive immune system that protects the cell from invasive mobile genetic elements (MGEs). However, MGEs occasionally escape CRISPR targeting due to DNA mutations that occur in sequences involved in CRISPR interference. To better understand CRISPR escape processes, a plasmid interference assay was used to screen for mutants that escape CRISPR-Cas targeting. Plasmids containing a target sequence and a protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) were transformed for targeting by the native CRISPR-Cas system. Although the primary outcome of the assay was efficient interference, a small proportion of the transformed population overcame targeting. Mutants containing plasmids that had escaped were recovered to investigate the genetic routes of escape and their relative frequencies. Deletion of the targeting spacer in the native CRISPR array was the dominant pattern of escape, accounting for 52–70 % of the mutants from two L. gasseri strains. We repeatedly observed internal deletions in the chromosomal CRISPR array, characterized by polarized excisions from the leader end that spanned 1–15 spacers, and systematically included the leader-proximal targeting spacer. This study shows that deletions of spacers within CRISPR arrays constitute a key escape mechanism to evade CRISPR targeting, while preserving the functionality of the CRISPR-Cas system. This mechanism enables cells to maintain an active immune system, but allows the uptake of potentially beneficial plasmids. Our study revealed the co-occurrence of other genomic mutations associated with various phenotypes, showing how this selection process uncovers population diversification.

Keyword(s): Cas , Cas9 , CRISPR , interference , Lactobacillus and spacer
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2018-07-19
2019-10-19
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