Variability in the durability of CRISPR-Cas immunity

Chabas, HN, A.; Meaden, S.; Westra, E. R.; Tremblay, D. M.; Pradier, L.; Lion, S.; Moineau, S.; Gandon, S.,  Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences,  374:1-9. 2019.

The durability of host resistance is challenged by the ability of pathogens to escape the defence of their hosts. Understanding the variability in the durability of host resistance is of paramount importance for designing more effective control strategies against infectious diseases. Here, we study the durability of various clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats-Cas (CRISPR-Cas) alleles of the bacteria Streptococcus thermophilus against lytic phages. We found substantial variability in durability among different resistant bacteria. Since the escape of the phage is driven by a mutation in the phage sequence targeted by CRISPR-Cas, we explored the fitness costs associated with these escape mutations. We found that, on average, escape mutations decrease the fitness of the phage. Yet, the magnitude of this fitness cost does not predict the durability of CRISPR-Cas immunity. We contend that this variability in the durability of resistance may be because of variations in phage mutation rate or in the proportion of lethal mutations across the phage genome. These results have important implications on the coevolutionary dynamics between bacteria and phages and for the optimal deployment of resistance strategies against pathogens and pests. Understanding the durability of CRISPR-Cas immunity may also help develop more effective gene-drive strategies based on CRISPR-Cas9 technology. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue ‘The ecology and evolution of prokaryotic CRISPR-Cas adaptive immune systems’.