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CRISPR Immunity Drives Rapid Phage Genome Evolution in Streptococcus Thermophilus

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Journal Article - Open Access

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University of California Berkeley United States

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Many bacteria rely on CRISPR-Cas systems to provide adaptive immunity against phages, predation by which can shape the ecology and functioning of microbial communities. To characterize the impact of CRISPR immunization on phage genome evolution, we performed long-term bacterium-phage Streptococcus thermophilus-phage 2972 coevolution experiments. We found that in this species, CRISPR immunity drives fixation of single nucleotide polymorphisms that accumulate exclusively in phage genome regions targeted by CRISPR. Mutation rates in phage genomes highly exceed those of the host. The presence of multiple phages increased phage persistence by enabling recombination-based formation of chimeric phage genomes in which sequences heavily targeted by CRISPR were replaced. Collectively, our results establish CRISPR-Cas adaptive immunity as a key driver of phage genome evolution under the conditions studied and highlight the importance of multiple coexisting phages for persistence in natural systems.

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