Plant & cell physiology

A Split Staphylococcus aureus Cas9 as a Compact Genome-Editing Tool in Plants.

PMID 28371831


Split-protein methods-where a protein is split into two inactive fragments that must re-assemble to form an active protein-can be used to regulate the activity of a given protein and reduce the size of gene transcription units. Here, we show that a Staphylococcus aureus Cas9 (SaCas9) can be split, and that split-SaCas9 expressed from Agrobacterium can induce targeted mutagenesis in Nicotiana benthamiana. Since SaCas9 is smaller than the more commonly used Cas9 derived from Streptococcus pyogenes, the split-SaCas9 provides the smallest tool yet for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) plant genome editing. Both sets of split-SaCas9 (_430N/431C and _739N/740C) exhibited genome-editing activity, and the activity of split-SaCas9_739N/740C was almost the same as that of full-length SaCas9. This result indicates that split-SaCas9_739N/740C is suitable for use in targeted mutagenesis. We also show that the split-SaCas9 fragment expressed from Tomato mosaic virus could induce targeted mutagenesis together with another fragment expressed from Agrobacterium, suggesting that a split-SaCas9 system using a plant virus vector is a promising tool for integration-free plant genome editing. Split-SaCas9 has the potential to regulate CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing activity in plant cells both temporally and spatially.