Developmental biology

Evaluation and rational design of guide RNAs for efficient CRISPR/Cas9-mediated mutagenesis in Ciona.

PMID 28341547


The CRISPR/Cas9 system has emerged as an important tool for various genome engineering applications. A current obstacle to high throughput applications of CRISPR/Cas9 is the imprecise prediction of highly active single guide RNAs (sgRNAs). We previously implemented the CRISPR/Cas9 system to induce tissue-specific mutations in the tunicate Ciona. In the present study, we designed and tested 83 single guide RNA (sgRNA) vectors targeting 23 genes expressed in the cardiopharyngeal progenitors and surrounding tissues of Ciona embryo. Using high-throughput sequencing of mutagenized alleles, we identified guide sequences that correlate with sgRNA mutagenesis activity and used this information for the rational design of all possible sgRNAs targeting the Ciona transcriptome. We also describe a one-step cloning-free protocol for the assembly of sgRNA expression cassettes. These cassettes can be directly electroporated as unpurified PCR products into Ciona embryos for sgRNA expression in vivo, resulting in high frequency of CRISPR/Cas9-mediated mutagenesis in somatic cells of electroporated embryos. We found a strong correlation between the frequency of an Ebf loss-of-function phenotype and the mutagenesis efficacies of individual Ebf-targeting sgRNAs tested using this method. We anticipate that our approach can be scaled up to systematically design and deliver highly efficient sgRNAs for the tissue-specific investigation of gene functions in Ciona.