Double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) cleavage by Cas9 is a hallmark of type II CRISPR-Cas immune systems. Cas9-guide RNA complexes recognize 20-base-pair sequences in DNA and generate a site-specific double-strand break, a robust activity harnessed for genome editing. DNA recognition by all studied Cas9 enzymes requires a protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) next to the target site. We show that Cas9 enzymes from evolutionarily divergent bacteria can recognize and cleave single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) by an RNA-guided, PAM-independent recognition mechanism. Comparative analysis shows that in contrast to the type II-A S. pyogenes Cas9 that is widely used for genome engineering, the smaller type II-C Cas9 proteins have limited dsDNA binding and unwinding activity and promiscuous guide RNA specificity. These results indicate that inefficiency of type II-C Cas9 enzymes for genome editing results from a limited ability to cleave dsDNA and suggest that ssDNA cleavage was an ancestral function of the Cas9 enzyme family.
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