CRISPR-Cas9 is an RNA-guided DNA endonuclease involved in bacterial adaptive immunity and widely repurposed for genome editing in human cells, animals and plants. In bacteria, RNA molecules that guide Cas9's activity derive from foreign DNA fragments that are captured and integrated into the host CRISPR genomic locus by the Cas1-Cas2 CRISPR integrase. How cells generate the specific lengths of DNA required for integrase capture is a central unanswered question of type II-A CRISPR-based adaptive immunity. Here, we show that an integrase supercomplex comprising guide RNA and the proteins Cas1, Cas2, Csn2 and Cas9 generates precisely trimmed 30-base pair DNA molecules required for genome integration. The HNH active site of Cas9 catalyzes exonucleolytic DNA trimming by a mechanism that is independent of the guide RNA sequence. These results show that Cas9 possesses a distinct catalytic capacity for generating immunological memory in prokaryotes.
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.