Previously, we described a large collection of Drosophila strains that each carry an artificial exon containing a T2AGAL4 cassette inserted in an intron of a target gene based on CRISPR-mediated homologous recombination. These alleles permit numerous applications and have proven to be very useful. Initially, the homologous recombination-based donor constructs had long homology arms (>500 bps) to promote precise integration of large constructs (>5 kb). Recently, we showed that in vivo linearization of the donor constructs enables insertion of large artificial exons in introns using short homology arms (100-200 bps). Shorter homology arms make it feasible to commercially synthesize homology donors and minimize the cloning steps for donor construct generation. Unfortunately, about 58% of Drosophila genes lack a suitable coding intron for integration of artificial exons in all of the annotated isoforms. Here, we report the development of new set of constructs that allow the replacement of the coding region of genes that lack suitable introns with a KozakGAL4 cassette, generating a knock-out/knock-in allele that expresses GAL4 similarly as the targeted gene. We also developed custom vector backbones to further facilitate and improve transgenesis. Synthesis of homology donor constructs in custom plasmid backbones that contain the target gene sgRNA obviates the need to inject a separate sgRNA plasmid and significantly increases the transgenesis efficiency. These upgrades will enable the targeting of nearly every fly gene, regardless of exon-intron structure, with a 70-80% success rate.
Mosquito-borne diseases present a worldwide public health burden. Current efforts to understand and counteract them have been aided by the use of cultured mosquito cells. Moreover, application in mammalian cells of forward genetic approaches such as CRISPR screens have identified essential genes and genes required for host-pathogen interactions, and in general, aided in functional annotation of genes. An equivalent approach for genetic screening of mosquito cell lines has been lacking. To develop such an approach, we design a new bioinformatic portal for sgRNA library design in several mosquito genomes, engineer mosquito cell lines to express Cas9 and accept sgRNA at scale, and identify optimal promoters for sgRNA expression in several mosquito species. We then optimize a recombination-mediated cassette exchange system to deliver CRISPR sgRNA and perform pooled CRISPR screens in an Anopheles cell line. Altogether, we provide a platform for high-throughput genome-scale screening in cell lines from disease vector species.
For more than 100 years, the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, has served as a powerful model organism for biological and biomedical research due to its many genetic and physiological similarities to humans and the availability of sophisticated technologies used to manipulate its genome and genes. The Drosophila research community quickly adopted CRISPR technologies and, in the 8 years since the first clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) publications in flies, has explored and innovated methods for mutagenesis, precise genome engineering, and beyond. Moreover, the short lifespan and ease of genetics have made Drosophila an ideal testing ground for in vivo applications and refinements of the rapidly evolving set of CRISPR-associated (CRISPR-Cas) tools. Here, we review innovations in delivery of CRISPR reagents, increased efficiency of cutting and homology-directed repair (HDR), and alternatives to standard Cas9-based approaches. While the focus is primarily on in vivo systems, we also describe the role of Drosophila cultured cells as both an indispensable first step in the process of assessing new CRISPR technologies and a platform for genome-wide CRISPR pooled screens.
Culex mosquitoes are a global vector for multiple human and animal diseases, including West Nile virus, lymphatic filariasis, and avian malaria, posing a constant threat to public health, livestock, companion animals, and endangered birds. While rising insecticide resistance has threatened the control of Culex mosquitoes, advances in CRISPR genome-editing tools have fostered the development of alternative genetic strategies such as gene drive systems to fight disease vectors. However, though gene-drive technology has quickly progressed in other mosquitoes, advances have been lacking in Culex. Here, we develop a Culex-specific Cas9/gRNA expression toolkit and use site-directed homology-based transgenesis to generate and validate a Culex quinquefasciatus Cas9-expressing line. We show that gRNA scaffold variants improve transgenesis efficiency in both Culex quinquefasciatus and Drosophila melanogaster and boost gene-drive performance in the fruit fly. These findings support future technology development to control Culex mosquitoes and provide valuable insight for improving these tools in other species.
CRISPR-Cas9 is a powerful genome editing technology in which a single guide RNA (sgRNA) confers target site specificity to achieve Cas9-mediated genome editing. Numerous sgRNA design tools have been developed based on reference genomes for humans and model organisms. However, existing resources are not optimal as genetic mutations or single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within the targeting region affect the efficiency of CRISPR-based approaches by interfering with guide-target complementarity. To facilitate identification of sgRNAs (1) in non-reference genomes, (2) across varying genetic backgrounds, or (3) for specific targeting of SNP-containing alleles, for example, disease relevant mutations, we developed a web tool, SNP-CRISPR (https://www.flyrnai.org/tools/snp_crispr/). SNP-CRISPR can be used to design sgRNAs based on public variant data sets or user-identified variants. In addition, the tool computes efficiency and specificity scores for sgRNA designs targeting both the variant and the reference. Moreover, SNP-CRISPR provides the option to upload multiple SNPs and target single or multiple nearby base changes simultaneously with a single sgRNA design. Given these capabilities, SNP-CRISPR has a wide range of potential research applications in model systems and for design of sgRNAs for disease-associated variant correction.
Precise and efficient genome modifications provide powerful tools for biological studies. Previous CRISPR gene knockout methods in cell lines have relied on frameshifts caused by stochastic insertion/deletion in all alleles. However, this method is inefficient for genes with high copy number due to polyploidy or gene amplification because frameshifts in all alleles can be difficult to generate and detect. Here we describe a homology-directed insertion method to knockout genes in the polyploid Drosophila S2R+ cell line. This protocol allows generation of homozygous mutant cell lines using an insertion cassette which autocatalytically generates insertion mutations in all alleles. Knockout cells generated using this method can be directly identified by PCR without a need for DNA sequencing. This protocol takes 2-3 months and can be applied to other polyploid cell lines or high-copy-number genes.
High-throughput screens in Drosophila melanogaster cell lines have led to discovery of conserved gene functions related to signal transduction, host pathogen interactions, ion transport, and more. CRISPR/Cas9 technology has opened the door to new types of large-scale cell-based screens. Whereas array format screens require liquid handling automation and assay miniaturization, pooled-format screens, in which reagents are introduced at random and in bulk, can be done in a standard lab setting. We provide a detailed protocol for conducting and evaluating genome-wide CRISPR single guide RNA (sgRNA) pooled screens in Drosophila S2R+ cultured cells. Specifically, we provide step-by-step instructions for library design and production, optimization of cytotoxin-based selection assays, genome-scale screening, and data analysis. This type of project takes ~3 months to complete. Results can be used in follow-up studies performed in vivo in Drosophila, mammalian cells, and/or other systems.
We previously reported a CRISPR-mediated knock-in strategy into introns of genes, generating an - transgenic library for multiple uses (Lee et al., 2018b). The method relied on double stranded DNA (dsDNA) homology donors with ~1 kb homology arms. Here, we describe three new simpler ways to edit genes in flies. We create single stranded DNA (ssDNA) donors using PCR and add 100 nt of homology on each side of an integration cassette, followed by enzymatic removal of one strand. Using this method, we generated GFP-tagged proteins that mark organelles in S2 cells. We then describe two dsDNA methods using cheap synthesized donors flanked by 100 nt homology arms and gRNA target sites cloned into a plasmid. Upon injection, donor DNA (1 to 5 kb) is released from the plasmid by Cas9. The cassette integrates efficiently and precisely . The approach is fast, cheap, and scalable.
Genome-wide screens in cells have offered numerous insights into gene function, yet a major limitation has been the inability to stably deliver large multiplexed DNA libraries to cultured cells allowing barcoded pooled screens. Here, we developed a site-specific integration strategy for library delivery and performed a genome-wide CRISPR knockout screen in S2R+ cells. Under basal growth conditions, 1235 genes were essential for cell fitness at a false-discovery rate of 5%, representing the highest-resolution fitness gene set yet assembled for , including 407 genes which likely duplicated along the vertebrate lineage and whose orthologs were underrepresented in human CRISPR screens. We additionally performed context-specific fitness screens for resistance to or synergy with trametinib, a Ras/ERK/ETS inhibitor, or rapamycin, an mTOR inhibitor, and identified key regulators of each pathway. The results present a novel, scalable, and versatile platform for functional genomic screens in invertebrate cells.
CRISPR/Cas9-based transcriptional activation (CRISPRa) has recently emerged as a powerful and scalable technique for systematic overexpression genetic analysis in We present flySAM, a potent tool for in vivo CRISPRa, which offers major improvements over existing strategies in terms of effectiveness, scalability, and ease of use. flySAM outperforms existing in vivo CRISPRa strategies and approximates phenotypes obtained using traditional Gal4-UAS overexpression. Moreover, because flySAM typically requires only a single sgRNA, it dramatically improves scalability. We use flySAM to demonstrate multiplexed CRISPRa, which has not been previously shown in vivo. In addition, we have simplified the experimental use of flySAM by creating a single vector encoding both the UAS:Cas9-activator and the sgRNA, allowing for inducible CRISPRa in a single genetic cross. flySAM will replace previous CRISPRa strategies as the basis of our growing genome-wide transgenic overexpression resource, TRiP-OE.
A synthetic lethal interaction is a type of genetic interaction where the disruption of either of two genes individually has little effect but their combined disruption is lethal. Knowledge of synthetic lethal interactions can allow for elucidation of network structure and identification of candidate drug targets for human diseases such as cancer. In , combinatorial gene disruption has been achieved previously by combining multiple RNAi reagents. Here we describe a protocol for high-throughput combinatorial gene disruption by combining CRISPR and RNAi. This approach previously resulted in the identification of highly reproducible and conserved synthetic lethal interactions (Housden , 2015).
Single-gene knockout experiments can fail to reveal function in the context of redundancy, which is frequently observed among duplicated genes (paralogs) with overlapping functions. We discuss the complexity associated with studying paralogs and outline how recent advances in CRISPR will help address the "phenotype gap" and impact biomedical research.
A synthetic lethal interaction is a type of genetic interaction where the disruption of either of two genes individually has little effect but their combined disruption is lethal. Knowledge of synthetic lethal interactions can allow for elucidation of network structure and identification of candidate drug targets for human diseases such as cancer. In Drosophila, combinatorial gene disruption has been achieved previously by combining multiple RNAi reagents. Here we describe a protocol for high-throughput combinatorial gene disruption by combining CRISPR and RNAi. This approach previously resulted in the identification of highly reproducible and conserved synthetic lethal interactions (Housden et al., 2015).
The rapid rise of CRISPR as a technology for genome engineering and related research applications has created a need for algorithms and associated online tools that facilitate design of on-target and effective guide RNAs (gRNAs). Here, we review the state-of-the-art in CRISPR gRNA design for research applications of the CRISPR-Cas9 system, including knockout, activation and inhibition. Notably, achieving good gRNA design is not solely dependent on innovations in CRISPR technology. Good design and design tools also rely on availability of high-quality genome sequence and gene annotations, as well as on availability of accumulated data regarding off-targets and effectiveness metrics. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
The tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) family of tumor suppressors, TSC1 and TSC2, function together in an evolutionarily conserved protein complex that is a point of convergence for major cell signaling pathways that regulate mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1). Mutation or aberrant inhibition of the TSC complex is common in various human tumor syndromes and cancers. The discovery of novel therapeutic strategies to selectively target cells with functional loss of this complex is therefore of clinical relevance to patients with nonmalignant TSC and those with sporadic cancers. We developed a CRISPR-based method to generate homogeneous mutant Drosophila cell lines. By combining TSC1 or TSC2 mutant cell lines with RNAi screens against all kinases and phosphatases, we identified synthetic interactions with TSC1 and TSC2. Individual knockdown of three candidate genes (mRNA-cap, Pitslre, and CycT; orthologs of RNGTT, CDK11, and CCNT1 in humans) reduced the population growth rate of Drosophila cells lacking either TSC1 or TSC2 but not that of wild-type cells. Moreover, individual knockdown of these three genes had similar growth-inhibiting effects in mammalian TSC2-deficient cell lines, including human tumor-derived cells, illustrating the power of this cross-species screening strategy to identify potential drug targets.
A number of approaches for Cas9-mediated transcriptional activation have recently been developed, allowing target genes to be overexpressed from their endogenous genomic loci. However, these approaches have thus far been limited to cell culture, and this technique has not been demonstrated in vivo in any animal. The technique involving the fewest separate components, and therefore the most amenable to in vivo applications, is the dCas9-VPR system, where a nuclease-dead Cas9 is fused to a highly active chimeric activator domain. In this study, we characterize the dCas9-VPR system in Drosophila cells and in vivo. We show that this system can be used in cell culture to upregulate a range of target genes, singly and in multiplex, and that a single guide RNA upstream of the transcription start site can activate high levels of target transcription. We observe marked heterogeneity in guide RNA efficacy for any given gene, and we confirm that transcription is inhibited by guide RNAs binding downstream of the transcription start site. To demonstrate one application of this technique in cells, we used dCas9-VPR to identify target genes for Twist and Snail, two highly conserved transcription factors that cooperate during Drosophila mesoderm development. In addition, we simultaneously activated both Twist and Snail to identify synergistic responses to this physiologically relevant combination. Finally, we show that dCas9-VPR can activate target genes and cause dominant phenotypes in vivo, providing the first demonstration of dCas9 activation in a multicellular animal. Transcriptional activation using dCas9-VPR thus offers a simple and broadly applicable technique for a variety of overexpression studies.