EMBO reports

RNA activation-independent DNA targeting of the Type III CRISPR-Cas system by a Csm complex.

PMID 28364023


The CRISPR-Cas system is an adaptive and heritable immune response that destroys invading foreign nucleic acids. The effector complex of the Type III CRISPR-Cas system targets RNA and DNA in a transcription-coupled manner, but the exact mechanism of DNA targeting by this complex remains elusive. In this study, an effector Csm holocomplex derived from Thermococcus onnurineus is reconstituted with a minimalistic combination of Csm1121334151, and shows RNA targeting and RNA-activated single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) targeting activities. Unexpectedly, in the absence of an RNA transcript, it cleaves ssDNA containing a sequence complementary to the bound crRNA guide region in a manner dependent on the HD domain of the Csm1 subunit. This nuclease activity is blocked by a repeat tag found in the host CRISPR loci. The specific cleavage of ssDNA without a target RNA suggests a novel ssDNA targeting mechanism of the Type III system, which could facilitate the efficient and complete degradation of foreign nucleic acids.