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Title: Bacteriophage T4 Escapes CRISPR Attack by Minihomology Recombination and Repair
ABSTRACT Bacteria and bacteriophages (phages) have evolved potent defense and counterdefense mechanisms that allowed their survival and greatest abundance on Earth. CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat)-Cas (CRISPR-associated) is a bacterial defense system that inactivates the invading phage genome by introducing double-strand breaks at targeted sequences. While the mechanisms of CRISPR defense have been extensively investigated, the counterdefense mechanisms employed by phages are poorly understood. Here, we report a novel counterdefense mechanism by which phage T4 restores the genomes broken by CRISPR cleavages. Catalyzed by the phage-encoded recombinase UvsX, this mechanism pairs very short stretches of sequence identity (minihomology sites), as few as 3 or 4 nucleotides in the flanking regions of the cleaved site, allowing replication, repair, and stitching of genomic fragments. Consequently, a series of deletions are created at the targeted site, making the progeny genomes completely resistant to CRISPR attack. Our results demonstrate that this is a general mechanism operating against both type II (Cas9) and type V (Cas12a) CRISPR-Cas systems. These studies uncovered a new type of counterdefense mechanism evolved by T4 phage where subtle functional tuning of preexisting DNA metabolism leads to profound impact on phage survival. IMPORTANCE Bacteriophages (phages) are viruses that infect more » bacteria and use them as replication factories to assemble progeny phages. Bacteria have evolved powerful defense mechanisms to destroy the invading phages by severing their genomes soon after entry into cells. We discovered a counterdefense mechanism evolved by phage T4 to stitch back the broken genomes and restore viral infection. In this process, a small amount of genetic material is deleted or another mutation is introduced, making the phage resistant to future bacterial attack. The mutant virus might also gain survival advantages against other restriction conditions or DNA damaging events. Thus, bacterial attack not only triggers counterdefenses but also provides opportunities to generate more fit phages. Such defense and counterdefense mechanisms over the millennia led to the extraordinary diversity and the greatest abundance of bacteriophages on Earth. Understanding these mechanisms will open new avenues for engineering recombinant phages for biomedical applications. « less
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Hatfull, Graham F.
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National Science Foundation
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