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Multiplex enCas12a screens show functional buffering by paralogs is systematically absent from genome-wide CRISPR/Cas9 knockout screens

By Merve Dede, Megan McLaughlin, Eiru Kim, Traver Hart

Posted 19 May 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.18.102764

Major efforts on pooled library CRISPR knockout screening across hundreds of cell lines have identified genes whose disruption leads to fitness defects, a critical step in identifying candidate cancer targets. However, the number of essential genes detected from these monogenic knockout screens are very low compared to the number of constitutively expressed genes in a cell, raising the question of why there are so few essential genes. Through a systematic analysis of screen data in cancer cell lines generated by the Cancer Dependency Map, we observed that half of all constitutively-expressed genes are never hits in any CRISPR screen, and that these never-essentials are highly enriched for paralogs. We investigated paralog buffering through systematic dual-gene CRISPR knockout screening by testing algorithmically defined ~400 candidate paralog pairs with the enCas12a multiplex knockout system in three cell lines. We observed 24 synthetic lethal paralog pairs which have escaped detection by monogenic knockout screens at stringent thresholds. Nineteen of 24 (79%) synthetic lethal interactions were present in at least two out of three cell lines and 14 of 24 (58%) were present in all three cell lines tested, including alternate subunits of stable protein complexes as well as functionally redundant enzymes. Together these observations strongly suggest that paralogs represent a targetable set of genetic dependencies that are systematically under-represented among cell-essential genes due to genetic buffering in monogenic CRISPR-based mammalian functional genomics approaches. ### Competing Interest Statement TH is a consultant for Repare Therapeutics

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