Viral recombination systems limit CRISPR-Cas targeting through the generation of escape mutations

Cell Host Microbe. 2021 Oct 13;29(10):1482-1495.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2021.09.001. Epub 2021 Sep 27.


CRISPR-Cas systems provide immunity to bacteria by programing Cas nucleases with RNA guides that recognize and cleave infecting viral genomes. Bacteria and their viruses each encode recombination systems that could repair the cleaved viral DNA. However, it is unknown whether and how these systems can affect CRISPR immunity. Bacteriophage λ uses the Red system (gam-exo-bet) to promote recombination between related phages. Here, we show that λ Red also mediates evasion of CRISPR-Cas targeting. Gam inhibits the host E. coli RecBCD recombination system, allowing recombination and repair of the cleaved DNA by phage Exo-Beta, which promotes the generation of mutations within the CRISPR target sequence. Red recombination is strikingly more efficient than the host's RecBCD-RecA in the production of large numbers of phages that escape CRISPR targeting. These results reveal a role for Red-like systems in the protection of bacteriophages against sequence-specific nucleases, which may facilitate their spread across viral genomes.

Keywords: CRISPR; Cas9; Lambda; Red; recombination.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteriophage lambda / genetics*
  • Bacteriophage lambda / immunology
  • Bacteriophage lambda / physiology
  • CRISPR-Cas Systems*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / immunology
  • Escherichia coli / virology
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / immunology
  • Exodeoxyribonuclease V / genetics
  • Exodeoxyribonuclease V / immunology
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Mutation*
  • Recombination, Genetic*
  • Viral Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / immunology


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Viral Proteins
  • Exodeoxyribonuclease V
  • exodeoxyribonuclease V, E coli