Germline variation contributes to false negatives in CRISPR-based experiments with varying burden across ancestries

Nat Commun. 2024 Jun 7;15(1):4892. doi: 10.1038/s41467-024-48957-z.


Reducing disparities is vital for equitable access to precision treatments in cancer. Socioenvironmental factors are a major driver of disparities, but differences in genetic variation likely also contribute. The impact of genetic ancestry on prioritization of cancer targets in drug discovery pipelines has not been systematically explored due to the absence of pre-clinical data at the appropriate scale. Here, we analyze data from 611 genome-scale CRISPR/Cas9 viability experiments in human cell line models to identify ancestry-associated genetic dependencies essential for cell survival. Surprisingly, we find that most putative associations between ancestry and dependency arise from artifacts related to germline variants. Our analysis suggests that for 1.2-2.5% of guides, germline variants in sgRNA targeting sequences reduce cutting by the CRISPR/Cas9 nuclease, disproportionately affecting cell models derived from individuals of recent African descent. We propose three approaches to mitigate this experimental bias, enabling the scientific community to address these disparities.

MeSH terms

  • CRISPR-Cas Systems*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Gene Editing / methods
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genome, Human
  • Germ Cells / metabolism
  • Germ-Line Mutation*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • RNA, Guide, CRISPR-Cas Systems / genetics


  • RNA, Guide, CRISPR-Cas Systems