Prokaryotic CRISPR-Cas genomic loci encode RNA-mediated adaptive immune systems that bear some functional similarities with eukaryotic RNA interference. Acquired and heritable immunity against bacteriophage and plasmids begins with integration of ∼30 base pair foreign DNA sequences into the host genome. CRISPR-derived transcripts assemble with CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins to target complementary nucleic acids for degradation. Here we review recent advances in the structural biology of these targeting complexes, with a focus on structural studies of the multisubunit Type I CRISPR RNA-guided surveillance and the Cas9 DNA endonuclease found in Type II CRISPR-Cas systems. These complexes have distinct structures that are each capable of site-specific double-stranded DNA binding and local helix unwinding.
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