In vivo activity of CRISPR-mediated virus defence in a hyperthermophilic archaeon

Mol Microbiol. 2011 Apr;80(2):481-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2011.07586.x. Epub 2011 Mar 8.


Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/Cas systems are found widespread in bacterial and archaeal genomes and exhibit considerable diversity. However, closer insights into the action of most of the CRISPR modules have remained elusive in particular in Archaea as a result of the lack of suitable in vivo test systems. Here we demonstrate CRISPR/Cas-based immune defence in the hyperthermophilic archaeon Sulfolobus solfataricus. Recombinant variants of the SSV1 virus containing a gene of the conjugative plasmid pNOB8 that represents a target for a corresponding CRISPR spacer in the chromosome were tested in transfection experiments. Almost 100% immunity against the recombinant virus was observed when the chromosomal CRISPR spacer matched perfectly to the protospacer. Different from bacterial systems immunity was still detected, albeit at decreased levels, when mutations distinguished target and spacer. CRISPR/Cas targeting was independent of the transcription of the target gene. Furthermore, a mini-CRISPR locus introduced on the viral DNA with spacers targeting the (non-essential) chromosomal beta-galactosidase gene was unstable in host cells and triggered recombination with the indigenous CRISPR locus. Our experiments demonstrate in vivo activity of CRISPR/Cas in archaea for the first time and suggest that - unlike the recently demonstrated in vitro cleavage of RNA in Pyrococcus- DNA is targeted in this archaeon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Archaeal / genetics
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Fuselloviridae / genetics
  • Fuselloviridae / growth & development*
  • Fuselloviridae / immunology
  • Plasmids
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Sulfolobus solfataricus / genetics*
  • Transfection


  • DNA, Archaeal
  • DNA, Viral