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Rice study examines how bacteria acquire immunity
Date:9/15/2010

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The repeating sequences appear to be a kind of bookend or flag that the organism uses to determine where a snippet from a phage begins and ends. The CRISPR will often have between 30 and 50 of these snippets of phage sequences. Previous studies have found that once a bacteria has a phage sequence in its CRISPR, it has the ability to degrade any DNA or RNA that match that sequence -- meaning it can fend off attacks from any phages that have genes matching those in its CRISPR.

"What we wanted to explore was how the history of a bacterium's exposure to phages influences what's in the CRISPR," Deem said. "In other words, how is an organism's previous exposure to viruses reflected in its own genome?"

From earlier published studies, Deem and He knew that phage sequences were added to the CRISPR sequentially. So, in a CRISPR system containing 30 snippets, the newest one would be in position one, at the front of the line. In another study in 2007, researchers examining the CRISPR of whole populations of bacteria noticed some statistical irregularities. They found that the likelihood of two different organisms having the same snippet in their CRISPR increased exponentially as they progressed away from position one. So, in the organism with 30 snippets, the phage gene in position 30 was the most likely to be conserved time and again across all the bacteria in the population.

To use the power of computers to examine why this happens, Deem and He needed a mathematical description of what was happening over time to both the bacterial and phage populations. The equations they created reflect the way the bacterial and phage populations interact via the CRISPR.

"Each population is trying to expand, and selective pressure is constantly being applied on both sides," Deem said. "You can see how this plays out in the CRISPR over time. There's a diverse assortment of genes in the first spacer, but the second spacer has been in there long
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Contact: Jade Boyd
jadeboyd@rice.edu
713-348-6778
Rice University
Source:Eurekalert

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