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A nucleus-like compartment shields bacteriophage DNA from CRISPR-Cas and restriction nucleases

By Senén D. Mendoza, Joel D. Berry, Eliza S Nieweglowska, Lina M. Leon, David A. Agard, Joseph Bondy-Denomy

Posted 17 Jul 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/370791

All viruses require strategies to inhibit or evade the immunity pathways of cells they infect. The viruses that infect bacteria, bacteriophages (phages), must avoid nucleic-acid targeting immune pathways such as CRISPR-Cas and restriction endonucleases to replicate efficiently1. Here, we show that a jumbo phage infecting Pseudomonas aeruginosa, phage φKZ, is resistant to many immune systems in vivo, including CRISPR-Cas3 (Type I-C), Cas9 (Type II-A), Cas12 (Cpf1, Type V-A), and Type I restriction-modification (R-M) systems. We propose that φKZ utilizes a nucleus-like shell to protect its DNA from attack. Supporting this, we demonstrate that Cas9 is able to cleave φKZ DNA in vitro, but not in vivo and that Cas9 is physically occluded from the shell assembled by the phage during infection. Moreover, we demonstrate that the Achilles heel for this phage is the mRNA, as translation occurs outside of the shell, rendering the phage sensitive to the RNA targeting CRISPR-Cas enzyme, Cas13a (C2c2, Type VI-A). Collectively, we propose that the nucleus-like shell assembled by jumbo phages enables potent, broad spectrum evasion of DNA-targeting nucleases.

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