More and more available fungal genome sequence data reveal a large amount of secondary metabolite (SM) biosynthetic 'dark matter' to be discovered. Heterogeneous expression is one of the most effective approaches to exploit these novel natural products, but it is limited by having to clone entire biosynthetic gene clusters (BGCs) without errors. So far, few effective technologies have been developed to manipulate the specific large DNA fragments in filamentous fungi. Here, we developed a fungal BGC-capturing system based on CRISPR/Cas9 cleavage in vitro. In our system, Cas9 protein was purified and CRISPR guide sequences in combination with in vivo yeast assembly were rationally designed. Using targeted cleavages of plasmid DNAs with linear (8.5 kb) or circular (8.5 kb and 28 kb) states, we were able to cleave the plasmids precisely, demonstrating the high efficiency of this system. Furthermore, we successfully captured the entire Nrc gene cluster from the genomic DNA of Neosartorya fischeri. Our results provide an easy and efficient approach to manipulate fungal genomic DNA based on the in vitro application of Cas9 endonuclease. Our methodology will lay a foundation for capturing entire groups of BGCs in filamentous fungi and accelerate fungal SMs mining.
Keywords: CRISPR/Cas9; biosynthetic gene clusters; filamentous fungi; heterogeneous expression; secondary metabolites.