Modulating CRISPR gene drive activity through nucleocytoplasmic localization of Cas9 in S. cerevisiae

M. E. Goeckel, E. M. Basgall, I. C. Lewis, S. C. Goetting, Y. Yan, M. Halloran and G. C. Finnigan,  Fungal Biology Biotechnology,  6:2. 2019.

BACKGROUND: The bacterial CRISPR/Cas genome editing system has provided a major breakthrough in molecular biology. One use of this technology is within a nuclease-based gene drive. This type of system can install a genetic element within a population at unnatural rates. Combatting of vector-borne diseases carried by metazoans could benefit from a delivery system that bypasses traditional Mendelian laws of segregation. Recently, laboratory studies in fungi, insects, and even mice, have demonstrated successful propagation of CRISPR gene drives and the potential utility of this type of mechanism. However, current gene drives still face challenges including evolved resistance, containment, and the consequences of application in wild populations. Additional research into molecular mechanisms that would allow for control, titration, and inhibition of drive systems is needed. RESULTS: In this study, we use artificial gene drives in budding yeast to explore mechanisms to modulate nuclease activity of Cas9 through its nucleocytoplasmic localization. We examine non-native nuclear localization sequences (both NLS and NES) on Cas9 fusion proteins in vivo through fluorescence microscopy and genomic editing. Our results demonstrate that mutational substitutions to nuclear signals and combinatorial fusions can both modulate the level of gene drive activity within a population of cells. CONCLUSIONS: These findings have implications for control of traditional nuclease-dependent editing and use of gene drive systems within other organisms. For instance, initiation of a nuclear export mechanism to Cas9 could serve as a molecular safeguard within an active gene drive to reduce or eliminate editing.

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