Link identified between virus recognition, destruction in bacterial immune system

Posted: March 2, 2015 at 3:47 pm

24 minutes ago Yunzhou Wei . Credit: Andrew Davis Tucker

An immune system that helps bacteria combat viruses is yielding unlikely results such as the ability to edit genome sequences and potentially correct mutations that cause human disease.

University of Georgia researchers Michael and Rebecca Terns were among the first to begin to study the bacterial immune system. They now have identified a key link in how bacteria respond and adapt to foreign invaders.

The new study, authored by the Terns and postdoctoral research associate Yunzhou Wei in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of biochemistry and molecular biology, was published recently in Genes & Development.

A bacterium gains immunity against a virus through a sophisticated process of acquiring a fragment of the viral DNA and incorporating the sequence into its own genome. This virus identification sequence is kept in a locus commonly known as a CRISPR, short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.

CRISPR-associated proteins then use the sequence to recognize and destroy viruses.

A CRISPR-associated protein known as Cas9 destroys invading viral DNA and has been co-opted as a tool for programmable genome editing. This new tool provides a way to make gene deletions, corrections of mutations and additions of new genes in any genome.

The UGA study highlights the discovery of a new role of the Cas9 protein in the initial acquisition of the invader sequence.

"The recognition that this enzyme functions both in capture and in killing provides us with a link between those two processes that we think is involved in ensuring that the process is specific for the virus and avoids potential damage to its own genome," said Rebecca Terns, a senior research scientist in biochemistry and molecular biology. "Our findings implicate Cas9 in the recognition of a secondary, invader-confirmation signal called a PAM."

In the study, the team describes the basic set of machinery that is required to obtain a specific fragment of viral sequence and insert the fragment in a specific location.

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Link identified between virus recognition, destruction in bacterial immune system

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