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Biological Chemistry

Editor-in-Chief: Brüne, Bernhard

Editorial Board Member: Buchner, Johannes / Lei, Ming / Ludwig, Stephan / Sies, Helmut / Turk, Boris / Wittinghofer, Alfred

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Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs): the hallmark of an ingenious antiviral defense mechanism in prokaryotes

Sinan Al-Attar1 / Edze R. Westra1 / John van der Oost1 / 1

1Laboratory of Microbiology, Wageningen University, Dreijenplein 10, NL-6703 HB Wageningen, The Netherlands

Corresponding author

Citation Information: Biological Chemistry. Volume 392, Issue 4, Pages 277–289, ISSN (Online) 1437-4315, ISSN (Print) 1431-6730, DOI: 10.1515/bc.2011.042, July 2011

Publication History

Published Online:


Many prokaryotes contain the recently discovered defense system against mobile genetic elements. This defense system contains a unique type of repetitive DNA stretches, termed Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPRs). CRISPRs consist of identical repeated DNA sequences (repeats), interspaced by highly variable sequences referred to as spacers. The spacers originate from either phages or plasmids and comprise the prokaryotes' ‘immunological memory’. CRISPR-associated (cas) genes encode conserved proteins that together with CRISPRs make-up the CRISPR/Cas system, responsible for defending the prokaryotic cell against invaders. CRISPR-mediated resistance has been proposed to involve three stages: (i) CRISPR-Adaptation, the invader DNA is encountered by the CRISPR/Cas machinery and an invader-derived short DNA fragment is incorporated in the CRISPR array. (ii) CRISPR-Expression, the CRISPR array is transcribed and the transcript is processed by Cas proteins. (iii) CRISPR-Interference, the invaders' nucleic acid is recognized by complementarity to the crRNA and neutralized. An application of the CRISPR/Cas system is the immunization of industry-relevant prokaryotes (or eukaryotes) against mobile-genetic invasion. In addition, the high variability of the CRISPR spacer content can be exploited for phylogenetic and evolutionary studies. Despite impressive progress during the last couple of years, the elucidation of several fundamental details will be a major challenge in future research.

Keywords: anti-phage; Cas proteins; small RNAs; spacers

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