Bacteria and archaea possess a range of defense mechanisms to combat plasmids and viral infections. Unique among these are the CRISPR-Cas (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats-CRISPR associated) systems, which provide adaptive immunity against foreign nucleic acids. CRISPR systems function by acquiring genetic records of invaders to facilitate robust interference upon reinfection. In this Review, we discuss recent advances in understanding the diverse mechanisms by which Cas proteins respond to foreign nucleic acids and how these systems have been harnessed for precision genome manipulation in a wide array of organisms.
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