Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated (Cas) genes are present in many bacterial and archaeal genomes. Since the discovery of the typical CRISPR loci in the 1980s, well before their physiological role was revealed, their variable sequences have been used as a complementary typing tool in diagnostic, epidemiologic, and evolutionary analyses of prokaryotic strains. The discovery that CRISPR spacers are often identical to sequence fragments of mobile genetic elements was a major breakthrough that eventually led to the elucidation of CRISPR-Cas as an adaptive immunity system. Key elements of this unique prokaryotic defense system are small CRISPR RNAs that guide nucleases to complementary target nucleic acids of invading viruses and plasmids, generally followed by the degradation of the invader. In addition, several recent studies have pointed at direct links of CRISPR-Cas to regulation of a range of stress-related phenomena. An interesting example concerns a pathogenic bacterium that possesses a CRISPR-associated ribonucleoprotein complex that may play a dual role in defense and/or virulence. In this review, we describe recently reported cases of potential involvement of CRISPR-Cas systems in bacterial stress responses in general and bacterial virulence in particular.
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