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  1. Abstract

    CRISPR-Cas12a is an RNA-guided, programmable genome editing enzyme found within bacterial adaptive immune pathways. Unlike CRISPR-Cas9, Cas12a uses only a single catalytic site to both cleave target double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) (cis-activity) and indiscriminately degrade single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) (trans-activity). To investigate how the relative potency of cis- versus trans-DNase activity affects Cas12a-mediated genome editing, we first used structure-guided engineering to generate variants of Lachnospiraceae bacterium Cas12a that selectively disrupt trans-activity. The resulting engineered mutant with the biggest differential between cis- and trans-DNase activity in vitro showed minimal genome editing activity in human cells, motivating a second set of experiments using directed evolution to generate additional mutants with robust genome editing activity. Notably, these engineered and evolved mutants had enhanced ability to induce homology-directed repair (HDR) editing by 2–18-fold compared to wild-type Cas12a when using HDR donors containing mismatches with crRNA at the PAM-distal region. Finally, a site-specific reversion mutation produced improved Cas12a (iCas12a) variants with superior genome editing efficiency at genomic sites that are difficult to edit using wild-type Cas12a. This strategy establishes a pipeline for creating improved genome editing tools by combining structural insights with randomization and selection. The available structures of other CRISPR-Cas enzymes will enable this strategy to be applied to improve the efficacy of other genome-editing proteins.

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  2. CRISPR-Cas systems provide microbes with adaptive immunity to infectious nucleic acids and are widely employed as genome editing tools. These tools use RNA-guided Cas proteins whose large size (950 to 1400 amino acids) has been considered essential to their specific DNA- or RNA-targeting activities. Here we present a set of CRISPR-Cas systems from uncultivated archaea that contain Cas14, a family of exceptionally compact RNA-guided nucleases (400 to 700 amino acids). Despite their small size, Cas14 proteins are capable of targeted single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) cleavage without restrictive sequence requirements. Moreover, target recognition by Cas14 triggers nonspecific cutting of ssDNA molecules, an activity that enables high-fidelity single-nucleotide polymorphism genotyping (Cas14-DETECTR). Metagenomic data show that multiple CRISPR-Cas14 systems evolved independently and suggest a potential evolutionary origin of single-effector CRISPR-based adaptive immunity.

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