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  1. Type V CRISPR-Cas interference proteins use a single RuvC active site to make RNA-guided breaks in double-stranded DNA substrates, an activity essential for both bacterial immunity and genome editing. The best-studied of these enzymes, Cas12a, initiates DNA cutting by forming a 20-nucleotide R-loop in which the guide RNA displaces one strand of a double-helical DNA substrate, positioning the DNase active site for first-strand cleavage. However, crystal structures and biochemical data have not explained how the second strand is cut to complete the double-strand break. Here, we detect intrinsic instability in DNA flanking the RNA-3′ side of R-loops, which Cas12a can exploit to expose second-strand DNA for cutting. Interestingly, DNA flanking the RNA-5′ side of R-loops is not intrinsically unstable. This asymmetry in R-loop structure may explain the uniformity of guide RNA architecture and the single-active-site cleavage mechanism that are fundamental features of all type V CRISPR-Cas systems.

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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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