Theses Doctoral

Bacterial Genome Engineering with CRISPR RNA-Guided Transposons

Vo, Phuc Hong

Bacterial species and communities play foundational roles in human health and therapeutics, in vital ecological and environmental processes, and in industrial applications for the biosynthesis of valuable compounds and materials. However, existing genetic engineering methods and technologies available for bacterial functional genetics or large-scale genomic integration are inefficient, unable to translate between different target species, or lacking precise targeting or reprogramming capabilities. In this work, we describe a novel class of CRISPR- associated transposons (CRISPR-Tn) that facilitate programmable RNA-guided DNA insertions. In particular, the Tn6677 CRISPR-Tn system from Vibrio cholerae comprises a Tn7-like transposase machinery that has co-opted a nuclease-deficient Type I-F3 CRISPR-Cas system to guide its target selection. We show that, similar to canonical CRISPR-Cas systems, this CRISPR- Tn system can be easily programmed using the CRISPR RNA (crRNA) spacer sequence, and directs highly target-specific DNA integration into the Escherichia coli genome.

After defining their core biological and mechanistic principles, we developed these CRISPR-Tn systems into a genome engineering platform, which we named INTEGRATE (Insertions of Transposable Elements by Guide RNA-Assisted Targeting). Particularly, optimization of V. cholerae Tn6677 (Vch INTEGRATE, or VchINT) produced a system capable of programmable, broad-bacterial- host, and multiplexed integration of DNA payloads up to 10 kilobases in length, with genomic editing efficiencies reaching 100%. Our single-plasmid expression of system components enabled, for the first time, genome engineering of specific target strains within a complex fecal bacterial community.

In addition, we performed extensive deep sequencing within transposition experiments to characterize and examine non-conventional transposition products, including cointegrates formed through replicative transposition, and long-range integration events resulting from on-target DNA binding. Finally, by individually inserting transposon ends into the E. coli genome, we demonstrated successful transposition-mediated mobilization of a genomic fragment 100 kilobases (kb) in length, demonstrating engineering at the genome-scale using VchINT. Altogether, this work highlights the potential of VchINT and other CRISPR-Tn systems as next- generation genome engineering technologies in bacteria and beyond.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Pharmacology and Molecular Signaling
Thesis Advisors
Sternberg, Samuel H.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
December 1, 2021