Characterisation of proteins involved in CRISPR-mediated antiviral defence in Sulfolobus solfataricus
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One of the most surprising realisations to emerge from metagenomics studies in the early ‘00s was that the population of viruses and phages in nature is about 10 times larger than the population of prokaryotic organisms. Thus, bacteria and archaea are under constant pressure to develop resistance methods against a population of viruses with extremely high turnover and evolution rates, in what has been described as an evolutionary “arms race”. A novel, adaptive and heritable immune system encoded by prokaryotic genomes is the CRISPR/Cas system. Arrays of clustered regularly interspersed short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) are able to incorporate viral or plasmid sequences which are then used to inactivate the corresponding invader element via an RNA interference mechanism. A number of CRISPR-associated (Cas) protein families are responsible for the maintenance, expansion and function of the CRISPR loci. This system can be classified in a number of types and subtypes that differ widely in their gene composition and mode of action. This thesis describes the biochemical characteristics of CRISPR-mediated defense in the crenarchaeon Sulfolobus solfataricus. The process of CRISPR loci transcription and their subsequent maturation into small guide crRNA units by the processing endonuclease of the system (Cas6) is investigated. After this step, different pathways and effector proteins are involved in the recognition and silencing of DNA or RNA exogenous nucleic acids. This thesis reports the identification and purification of a native multiprotein complex from S. solfataricus P2, the Cmr complex, a homologue of which has been found to recognise and cleave RNA targets in P. furiosus. The recognition and silencing of DNA targets in E. coli has been shown to involve a multiprotein complex termed CASCADE as well as Cas3, a putative helicase-HD nuclease. S. solfataricus encodes orthologues for the core proteins of this complex, and the formation and function of an archaeal CASCADE is investigated in this thesis.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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