A New Era with iGeoCas9


The advent of CRISPR technology has revolutionized genome editing, offering unprecedented precision and versatility. Central to this innovation are the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins, which provide adaptive immunity in prokaryotes by targeting and cleaving the DNA of invading viruses and mobile genetic elements. The CRISPR-Cas9 system, particularly from *Streptococcus pyogenes* (SpyCas9), has become a cornerstone for research and clinical applications due to its programmable guide RNA, which directs the Cas9 protein to specific DNA sequences for editing.


GeoCas9: A New Contender with Thermostability

While SpyCas9 remains the most widely used, its sensitivity to aggregation and proteolytic degradation can hinder its effectiveness in various environments. This has led researchers to explore other Cas9 variants, such as the thermostable Cas9 from *Geobacillus stearothermophilus* (GeoCas9). Initially, it was hypothesized that GeoCas9 would enhance genome-editing activities due to its extended protein lifetime. However, experimental evidence showed that GeoCas9 was a poor editor in human cells despite its thermostability.


iGeoCas9: Engineered for Enhanced Activity

To overcome the limitations of GeoCas9, scientists applied directed evolution to engineer variants with improved editing activity and expanded protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM) flexibility. This process yielded iGeoCas9, an engineered version of GeoCas9 with mutations in the wedge (WED) domain that significantly increased genome-editing efficiencies by more than 100-fold.


Understanding the Mechanisms

To understand why iGeoCas9 outperforms its predecessor, researchers used cryoelectron microscopy (cryo-EM) and biochemical analysis to compare the structures and behaviors of wild-type and iGeoCas9 enzymes. They found that the three key WED-domain mutations in iGeoCas9 establish new interactions with target double-stranded DNA (dsDNA), enhancing DNA binding and relaxing PAM specificity. This improved DNA binding accelerates DNA unwinding, thereby expanding the target sequence space.

Furthermore, the WED-domain mutations allow iGeoCas9 to function effectively at lower magnesium ion concentrations, which are typical in mammalian cells but not in bacterial cells. This enables iGeoCas9 to maintain high activity in environments where wild-type GeoCas9 would be less effective.


Broader Implications and Future Directions

The success of iGeoCas9 has broader implications for the field of genome editing. The insights gained from engineering iGeoCas9 have been applied to other Cas9 proteins, such as Nme2Cas9, resulting in new variants with enhanced genome-editing activities. These advancements suggest that optimizing the WED domain can create robust genome editors with expanded PAM compatibility and improved editing efficiency.

Overall, the development of iGeoCas9 marks a significant milestone in the evolution of genome-editing technologies. By continuing to explore and engineer new Cas9 variants, researchers can unlock even greater potential for CRISPR-based applications in medicine, agriculture, and beyond.

Source: https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(24)00457-4#secsectitle0065
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