CRISPR-interference based modulation of mobile genetic elements in bacteria
Spontaneous mutagenesis of synthetic genetic constructs by mobile genetic elements frequently results in the rapid loss of advantageous functions. Previous efforts to minimize such mutations required the exceedingly time-consuming manipulation of bacterial chromosomes and the complete removal of insertional sequences (ISes). To this aim, we developed a single plasmid-based system (pCRIS) that applies CRISPR-interference to inhibit the transposition of bacterial ISes. pCRIS expresses multiple guide RNAs to direct inactivated Cas9 (dCas9) to simultaneously silence IS1, IS3, IS5, and IS150 at up to 38 chromosomal loci in Escherichia coli, in vivo. As a result, the transposition rate of all four targeted ISes dropped to negligible levels at both chromosomal and episomal targets, increasing the half-life of exogenous protein expression. Most notably, pCRIS, while requiring only a single plasmid delivery performed within a single day, provided a reduction of IS-mobility comparable to that seen in genome-scale chromosome engineering projects. Global transcriptomics analysis revealed nevertheless only minute alterations in the expression of untargeted genes. Finally, the transposition-silencing effect of pCRIS was easily transferable across multiple E. coli strains. The plasticity and robustness of our IS-silencing system make it a promising tool to stabilize bacterial genomes for synthetic biology and industrial biotechnology applications.
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