Type V CRISPR-associated systems (Cas)12 family nucleases are considered to have evolved from transposon-associated TnpB, and several of these nucleases have been engineered as versatile genome editors. Despite the conserved RNA-guided DNA-cleaving functionality, these Cas12 nucleases differ markedly from the currently identified ancestor TnpB in aspects such as guide RNA origination, effector complex composition, and protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) specificity, suggesting the presence of earlier evolutionary intermediates that could be mined to develop advanced genome manipulation biotechnologies. Using evolutionary and biochemical analyses, we identify that the miniature type V-U4 nuclease (referred to as Cas12n, 400–700 amino acids) is likely the earliest evolutionary intermediate between TnpB and large type V CRISPR systems. We demonstrate that with the exception of CRISPR array emergence, CRISPR-Cas12n shares several similar characteristics with TnpB-ωRNA, including a miniature and likely monomeric nuclease for DNA targeting, origination of guide RNA from nuclease coding sequence, and generation of a small sticky end following DNA cleavage. Cas12n nucleases recognize a unique 5′-AAN PAM sequence, of which the A nucleotide at the −2 position is also required for TnpB. Moreover, we demonstrate the robust genome-editing capacity of Cas12n in bacteria and engineer a highly efficient CRISPR-Cas12n (termed Cas12Pro) with up to 80% indel efficiency in human cells. The engineered Cas12Pro enables base editing in human cells. Our results further expand the understanding regarding type V CRISPR evolutionary mechanisms and enrich the miniature CRISPR toolbox for therapeutic applications.
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