Malaria remains a major global health issue, affecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands of people annually. Efforts to break the transmission cycle of the causal Plasmodium parasite, and to cure those that are afflicted, rely upon functional characterization of genes essential to the parasite's growth and development. These studies are often based upon manipulations of the parasite genome to disrupt or modify a gene of interest to understand its importance and function. However, these approaches can be limited by the availability of selectable markers and the time required to generate transgenic parasites. Moreover, there also is a risk of disrupting native gene regulatory elements with the introduction of exogenous sequences. To address these limitations, we have developed CRISPR-RGR, a Streptococcus pyogenes (Sp)Cas9-based gene editing system for Plasmodium that utilizes a ribozyme-guide-ribozyme (RGR) single guide RNA (sgRNA) expression strategy with RNA polymerase II promoters. Using rodent-infectious Plasmodium yoelii, we demonstrate that both gene disruptions and coding sequence insertions are efficiently generated, producing marker-free parasites with homology arms as short as 80-100 bp. Additionally, we find that the common practice of using one sgRNA can produce both unintended plasmid integration and desired locus replacement editing events, whereas the use of two sgRNAs results in only locus replacement editing. Lastly, we show that CRISPR-RGR can be used for CRISPR interference (CRISPRi) by binding catalytically dead SpCas9 (dSpCas9) to the region upstream of a gene of interest, resulting in a position-dependent, but strand-independent reduction in gene expression. This robust and flexible system facilitates efficient genetic characterizations of rodent-infectious Plasmodium species.
Keywords: ALBA; CRISPR/Cas; HDR; Plasmodium; UIS4; gene regulation; parasitology; ribozyme (catalytic RNA) (RNA enzyme); sgRNA.
© 2019 Walker and Lindner.