CRISPR-Cas Controls Cryptic Prophages. Academic Article uri icon


  • The bacterial archetypal adaptive immune system, CRISPR-Cas, is thought to be repressed in the best-studied bacterium, Escherichia coli K-12. We show here that the E. coli CRISPR-Cas system is active and serves to inhibit its nine defective (i.e., cryptic) prophages. Specifically, compared to the wild-type strain, reducing the amounts of specific interfering RNAs (crRNA) decreases growth by 40%, increases cell death by 700%, and prevents persister cell resuscitation. Similar results were obtained by inactivating CRISPR-Cas by deleting the entire 13 spacer region (CRISPR array); hence, CRISPR-Cas serves to inhibit the remaining deleterious effects of these cryptic prophages, most likely through CRISPR array-derived crRNA binding to cryptic prophage mRNA rather than through cleavage of cryptic prophage DNA, i.e., self-targeting. Consistently, four of the 13 E. coli spacers contain complementary regions to the mRNA sequences of seven cryptic prophages, and inactivation of CRISPR-Cas increases the level of mRNA for lysis protein YdfD of cryptic prophage Qin and lysis protein RzoD of cryptic prophage DLP-12. In addition, lysis is clearly seen via transmission electron microscopy when the whole CRISPR-Cas array is deleted, and eliminating spacer #12, which encodes crRNA with complementary regions for DLP-12 (including rzoD), Rac, Qin (including ydfD), and CP4-57 cryptic prophages, also results in growth inhibition and cell lysis. Therefore, we report the novel results that (i) CRISPR-Cas is active in E. coli and (ii) CRISPR-Cas is used to tame cryptic prophages, likely through RNAi, i.e., unlike with active lysogens, active CRISPR-Cas and cryptic prophages may stably co-exist.

published proceedings

  • Int J Mol Sci

author list (cited authors)

  • Song, S., Semenova, E., Severinov, K., Fernndez-Garca, L., Benedik, M. J., Maeda, T., & Wood, T. K.

complete list of authors

  • Song, Sooyeon||Semenova, Ekaterina||Severinov, Konstantin||Fernández-García, Laura||Benedik, Michael J||Maeda, Toshinari||Wood, Thomas K

publication date

  • December 2022