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Plasmid. 2019 Jun 11;104:102418. doi: 10.1016/j.plasmid.2019.102418. [Epub ahead of print]

A phylogenetic test of the role of CRISPR-Cas in limiting plasmid acquisition and prophage integration in bacteria.

Author information

1
Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, USA. Electronic address: domea001@ucr.edu.
2
Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, USA.

Abstract

CRISPR-Cas is a prokaryotic defense system capable of protecting the cell from damaging foreign genetic elements. However, some genetic elements can be beneficial, which suggests the hypothesis that bacteria with CRISPR-Cas incur a cost of reduced intake of mutualistic plasmids and prophage. Here we present the first robust test of this hypothesis that controls for phylogenic and ecological biases in the distribution of CRISPR-Cas. We filtered the available genomic data (~7000 strains from ~2100 species) by first selecting all pairs of conspecific strains, one with and one without CRISPR-Cas (controlling ecological bias), and second by retaining only one such pair per bacterial family (controlling phylogenetic bias), resulting in pairs representing 38 bacterial families. Analysis of these pairs of bacterial strains showed that on average the CRISPR-Cas strain of each pair contained significantly fewer plasmids than its CRISPR-Cas negative partner (0.86 vs. 1.86). It also showed that the CRISPR-Cas positive strains had 31% fewer intact prophage (1.17 vs. 1.75), but the effect was highly variable and not significant. These results support the hypothesis that CRISPR-Cas reduces the rate of plasmid-mediated HGT and, given the abundant evidence of beneficial genes carried by plasmids, provide a clear example of a cost associated with the CRISPR-Cas system.

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