CRISPR-Cas immunity leads to a coevolutionary arms race between Streptococcus thermophilus and lytic phage

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CRISPR-Cas is an adaptive prokaryotic immune system that prevents phage infection. By incorporating phage-derived 'spacer' sequences into CRISPR loci on the host genome, future infections from the same phage genotype can be recognized and the phage genome cleaved. However, the phage can escape CRISPR degradation by mutating the sequence targeted by the spacer, allowing them to re-infect previously CRISPR-immune hosts, and theoretically leading to coevolution. Previous studies have shown that phage can persist over long periods in populations of Streptococcus thermophilus that can acquire CRISPR-Cas immunity, but it has remained less clear whether this coexistence was owing to coevolution, and if so, what type of coevolutionary dynamics were involved. In this study, we performed highly replicated serial transfer experiments over 30 days with S. thermophilus and a lytic phage. Using a combination of phenotypic and genotypic data, we show that CRISPR-mediated resistance and phage infectivity coevolved over time following an arms race dynamic, and that asymmetry between phage infectivity and host resistance within this system eventually causes phage extinction. This work provides further insight into the way CRISPR-Cas systems shape the population and coevolutionary dynamics of bacteria-phage interactions. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'The ecology and evolution of prokaryotic CRISPR-Cas adaptive immune systems'.




Common, J., Morley, D., Westra, E. R., & Van Houte, S. (2019). CRISPR-Cas immunity leads to a coevolutionary arms race between Streptococcus thermophilus and lytic phage. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 374(1772).

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