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Background: Geminiviruses cause damaging diseases in several important crop species. However, limited progress has been made in developing crop varieties resistant to these highly diverse DNA viruses. Recently, the bacterial CRISPR/Cas9 system has been transferred to plants to target and confer immunity to geminiviruses. In this study, we use CRISPR-Cas9 interference in the staple food crop cassava with the aim of engineering resistance to African cassava mosaic virus, a member of a widespread and important family (Geminiviridae) of plant-pathogenic DNA viruses. Results: Our results show that the CRISPR system fails to confer effective resistance to the virus during glasshouse inoculations. Further, we find that between 33 and 48% of edited virus genomes evolve a conserved single-nucleotide mutation that confers resistance to CRISPR-Cas9 cleavage. We also find that in the model plant Nicotiana benthamiana the replication of the novel, mutant virus is dependent on the presence of the wild-type virus. Conclusions: Our study highlights the risks associated with CRISPR-Cas9 virus immunity in eukaryotes given that the mutagenic nature of the system generates viral escapes in a short time period. Our in-depth analysis of virus populations also represents a template for future studies analyzing virus escape from anti-viral CRISPR transgenics. This is especially important for informing regulation of such actively mutagenic applications of CRISPR-Cas9 technology in agriculture.
Mehta, D., Stürchler, A., Anjanappa, R. B., Zaidi, S. S. E. A., Hirsch-Hoffmann, M., Gruissem, W., & Vanderschuren, H. (2019). Linking CRISPR-Cas9 interference in cassava to the evolution of editing-resistant geminiviruses. Genome Biology, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13059-019-1678-3