Reassortment of CRISPR repeat-spacer loci in Sulfolobus islandicus

Nicole L. Held, Alfa Herrera, Rachel J. Whitaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Summary: Virus-host interactions are a key factor shaping population dynamics of microbial species. The CRISPR-Cas adaptive immune system confers sequence-specific immunity to viral infection and has the potential to dramatically shape coevolutionary interactions between viruses and their microbial hosts. To assess evolutionary dynamics of CRISPR loci, we have sampled a population of closely related Sulfolobus islandicus strains from Kamchatka, Russia at two time points, 10 years apart. Sequence analysis of the conserved trailer sequences reveals that alleles are reassorted among three CRISPR spacer loci into combinatorial genotypes. Reassortment provides the evolutionary independence of CRISPR loci from one another as demonstrated by the differential change in allele frequencies between two time points. Genome sequences of 12 strains from this population also reveal very recent horizontal gene transfer of novel, divergent cas gene cassettes. The evolutionary independence of CRISPR loci from each other and of the cas genes that control their function are consistent with the evolutionary expectation that reassortment increases the efficiency of adaptation at these loci that are likely under strong selection by lytic viruses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3065-3076
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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