CRISPR-Cas immunity requires integration of short, foreign DNA fragments into the host genome at the CRISPR locus, a site consisting of alternating repeat sequences and foreign-derived spacers. In most CRISPR systems, the proteins Cas1 and Cas2 form the integration complex and are both essential for DNA acquisition. Most type V-C and V-D systems lack the cas2 gene and have unusually short CRISPR repeats and spacers. Here, we show that a mini-integrase comprising the type V-C Cas1 protein alone catalyzes DNA integration with a preference for short (17- to 19-base-pair) DNA fragments. The mini-integrase has weak specificity for the CRISPR array. We present evidence that the Cas1 proteins form a tetramer for integration. Our findings support a model of a minimal integrase with an internal ruler mechanism that favors shorter repeats and spacers. This minimal integrase may represent the function of the ancestral Cas1 prior to Cas2 adoption.
Keywords: CRISPR; integrase; protein-DNA recognition; spacer acquisition.
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