Optimization of AsCas12a for combinatorial genetic screens in human cells

Nat Biotechnol. 2021 Jan;39(1):94-104. doi: 10.1038/s41587-020-0600-6. Epub 2020 Jul 13.


Cas12a RNA-guided endonucleases are promising tools for multiplexed genetic perturbations because they can process multiple guide RNAs expressed as a single transcript, and subsequently cleave target DNA. However, their widespread adoption has lagged behind Cas9-based strategies due to low activity and the lack of a well-validated pooled screening toolkit. In the present study, we describe the optimization of enhanced Cas12a from Acidaminococcus (enAsCas12a) for pooled, combinatorial genetic screens in human cells. By assaying the activity of thousands of guides, we refine on-target design rules and develop a comprehensive set of off-target rules to predict and exclude promiscuous guides. We also identify 38 direct repeat variants that can substitute for the wild-type sequence. We validate our optimized AsCas12a toolkit by screening for synthetic lethalities in OVCAR8 and A375 cancer cells, discovering an interaction between MARCH5 and WSB2. Finally, we show that enAsCas12a delivers similar performance to Cas9 in genome-wide dropout screens but at greatly reduced library size, which will facilitate screens in challenging models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acidaminococcus / genetics
  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins* / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins* / metabolism
  • CRISPR-Associated Protein 9
  • CRISPR-Associated Proteins* / genetics
  • CRISPR-Associated Proteins* / metabolism
  • CRISPR-Cas Systems / genetics*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases* / genetics
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases* / metabolism
  • Gene Editing / methods*
  • Gene Library
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • RNA, Guide* / genetics
  • RNA, Guide* / metabolism


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • CRISPR-Associated Proteins
  • RNA, Guide
  • CRISPR-Associated Protein 9
  • Cas12a protein
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases