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Title: Covalent Modifications of the Bacteriophage Genome Confer a Degree of Resistance to Bacterial CRISPR Systems
ABSTRACT The interplay between defense and counterdefense systems of bacteria and bacteriophages has been driving the evolution of both organisms, leading to their great genetic diversity. Restriction-modification systems are well-studied defense mechanisms of bacteria, while phages have evolved covalent modifications as a counterdefense mechanism to protect their genomes against restriction. Here, we present evidence that these genome modifications might also have been selected to counter, broadly, the CRISPR-Cas systems, an adaptive bacterial defense mechanism. We found that the phage T4 genome modified by cytosine hydroxymethylation and glucosylation (ghmC) exhibits various degrees of resistance to the type V CRISPR-Cas12a system, producing orders of magnitude more progeny than the T4(C) mutant, which contains unmodified cytosines. Furthermore, the progeny accumulated CRISPR escape mutations, allowing rapid evolution of mutant phages under CRISPR pressure. A synergistic effect on phage restriction was observed when two CRISPR-Cas12a complexes were targeted to independent sites on the phage genome, another potential countermechanism by bacteria to more effectively defend themselves against modified phages. These studies suggest that the defense-counterdefense mechanisms exhibited by bacteria and phages, while affording protection against one another, also provide evolutionary benefits for both. IMPORTANCE Restriction-modification (R-M) and CRISPR-Cas systems are two well-known defense mechanisms of bacteria. more » Both recognize and cleave phage DNA at specific sites while protecting their own genomes. It is well accepted that T4 and other phages have evolved counterdefense mechanisms to protect their genomes from R-M cleavage by covalent modifications, such as the hydroxymethylation and glucosylation of cytosine. However, it is unclear whether such genome modifications also provide broad protection against the CRISPR-Cas systems. Our results suggest that genome modifications indeed afford resistance against CRISPR systems. However, the resistance is not complete, and it is also variable, allowing rapid evolution of mutant phages that escape CRISPR pressure. Bacteria in turn could target more than one site on the phage genome to more effectively restrict the infection of ghmC-modified phage. Such defense-counterdefense strategies seem to confer survival advantages to both the organisms, one of the possible reasons for their great diversity. « less
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Pfeiffer, Julie K.
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Journal of Virology
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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