Reprogrammed CRISPR-Cas13b suppresses SARS-CoV-2 replication and circumvents its mutational escape through mismatch tolerance


Mohamed Fareh, Wei Zhao, Wenxin Hu, Joshua ML Casan, Amit Kumar, Jori Symons, Jennifer M. Zerbato, Danielle Fong, Ilia Voskoboinik, Paul G. Ekert, Rajeev Rudraraju, Damian FJ Purcell, Sharon R Lewin, Joseph A Trapani

Nature Communications, 12, article number: 4270, 2021. DOI:

The recent dramatic appearance of variants of concern of SARS-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) highlights the need for innovative approaches that simultaneously suppress viral replication and circumvent viral escape from host immunity and antiviral therapeutics. Here, we employ genome-wide computational prediction and single-nucleotide resolution screening to reprogram CRISPR-Cas13b against SARS-CoV-2 genomic and subgenomic RNAs. Reprogrammed Cas13b effectors targeting accessible regions of Spike and Nucleocapsid transcripts achieved >98% silencing efficiency in virus-free models. Further, optimized and multiplexed Cas13b CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) suppress viral replication in mammalian cells infected with replication-competent SARS-CoV-2, including the recently emerging dominant variant of concern B.1.1.7. The comprehensive mutagenesis of guide-target interaction demonstrated that single-nucleotide mismatches does not impair the capacity of a potent single crRNA to simultaneously suppress ancestral and mutated SARS-CoV-2 strains in infected mammalian cells, including the Spike D614G mutant. The specificity, efficiency and rapid deployment properties of reprogrammed Cas13b described here provide a molecular blueprint for antiviral drug development to suppress and prevent a wide range of SARS-CoV-2 mutants, and is readily adaptable to other emerging pathogenic viruses.

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