Biology direct

Evolution of RNA- and DNA-guided antivirus defense systems in prokaryotes and eukaryotes: common ancestry vs convergence.

PMID 28187792


Complementarity between nucleic acid molecules is central to biological information transfer processes. Apart from the basal processes of replication, transcription and translation, complementarity is also employed by multiple defense and regulatory systems. All cellular life forms possess defense systems against viruses and mobile genetic elements, and in most of them some of the defense mechanisms involve small guide RNAs or DNAs that recognize parasite genomes and trigger their inactivation. The nucleic acid-guided defense systems include prokaryotic Argonaute (pAgo)-centered innate immunity and CRISPR-Cas adaptive immunity as well as diverse branches of RNA interference (RNAi) in eukaryotes. The archaeal pAgo machinery is the direct ancestor of eukaryotic RNAi that, however, acquired additional components, such as Dicer, and enormously diversified through multiple duplications. In contrast, eukaryotes lack any heritage of the CRISPR-Cas systems, conceivably, due to the cellular toxicity of some Cas proteins that would get activated as a result of operon disruption in eukaryotes. The adaptive immunity function in eukaryotes is taken over partly by the PIWI RNA branch of RNAi and partly by protein-based immunity. In this review, I briefly discuss the interplay between homology and analogy in the evolution of RNA- and DNA-guided immunity, and attempt to formulate some general evolutionary principles for this ancient class of defense systems. This article was reviewed by Mikhail Gelfand and Bojan Zagrovic.