CRISPR/Cas systems provide bacteria and archaea with adaptive immunity against viruses and plasmids by using crRNAs to guide the silencing of invading nucleic acids. We show here that in a subset of these systems, the mature crRNA base-paired to trans-activating tracrRNA forms a two-RNA structure that directs the CRISPR-associated protein Cas9 to introduce double-stranded (ds) breaks in target DNA. At sites complementary to the crRNA-guide sequence, the Cas9 HNH nuclease domain cleaves the complementary strand while the Cas9 RuvC-like domain cleaves the non-complementary strand. The dual-tracrRNA:crRNA, when engineered as a single RNA chimera, also directs sequence-specific Cas9 dsDNA cleavage. Our study reveals a family of endonucleases that use dual-RNAs for site-specific DNA cleavage and highlights the potential to exploit the system for RNA-programmable genome editing.
A two-RNA structure directs an endonuclease to cleave target DNA.