Episode Summary

Newly discovered CRISPR-inhibiting genes are found in many different bacterial groups!

Microbe of the episode

Borrelia mazzottii

Jesse's takeaways

The discovery of the microbial immune system, CRISPR-Cas, changed many things about the way we think of microbial ecology and interactions with microbe-infecting viruses. The CRISPR-Cas system can learn to detect new threats by capturing bits of their genetic sequences and using these to target the Cas proteins to chop up any such sequences that make it into the cytoplasm. This can greatly increase microbial survival in certain ecosystems in which viruses regularly kill a large percentage of the microbial population.

To overcome this defense, a virus has to adapt, either by acquiring mutations that change its sequence, thus escaping detection, or by acquiring anti-CRISPR proteins that shut down the microbial defense directly. These possibilities make the complex ecology even more interesting.

In this study, scientists develop a clever method for screening for new anti-CRISPR genes, and go searching for them in samples from various places (soil, animal guts, human gut). They find several new examples, which turn out to be found in many different kinds of species in many different environments.

News discussed

New anti-CRISPR proteins discovered in soil and human gut

Journal Paper

Uribe RV, Helm E van der, Misiakou M-A, Lee S-W, Kol S, Sommer MOA. 2019. Discovery and Characterization of Cas9 Inhibitors Disseminated across Seven Bacterial Phyla. Cell Host & Microbe 25:233-241.e5.

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