CRISPR-Cas systems in prokaryotic cells provide an adaptive immunity against invading nucleic acids. For example, phage infection leads to addition of new immunity (spacer acquisition) and DNA cleavage (interference) in the bacterial model species Streptococcus thermophilus, which primarily relies on Cas9-containing CRISPR-Cas systems. Phages can counteract this defense system through mutations in the targeted protospacers or by encoding anti-CRISPR proteins (ACRs) that block Cas9 interference activity. Here, we show that S. thermophilus can block ACR-containing phages when the CRISPR immunity specifically targets the acr gene. This in turn selects for phage mutants carrying a deletion within the acr gene. Remarkably, a truncated acrIIA allele, found in a wild-type virulent streptococcal phage, does not block the interference activity of Cas9 but still prevents the acquisition of new immunities, thereby providing an example of an ACR specifically inhibiting spacer acquisition.
© 2022. The Author(s).