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One-step generation of a targeted knock-in calf using the CRISPR-Cas9 system in bovine zygotes



The homologous recombination (HR) pathway is largely inactive in early embryos prior to the first cell division, making it difficult to achieve targeted gene knock-ins. The homology-mediated end joining (HMEJ)-based strategy has been shown to increase knock-in efficiency relative to HR, non-homologous end joining (NHEJ), and microhomology-mediated end joining (MMEJ) strategies in non-dividing cells.


By introducing gRNA/Cas9 ribonucleoprotein complex and a HMEJ-based donor template with 1 kb homology arms flanked by the H11 safe harbor locus gRNA target site, knock-in rates of 40% of a 5.1 kb bovine sex-determining region Y (SRY)-green fluorescent protein (GFP) template were achieved in Bos taurus zygotes. Embryos that developed to the blastocyst stage were screened for GFP, and nine were transferred to recipient cows resulting in a live phenotypically normal bull calf. Genomic analyses revealed no wildtype sequence at the H11 target site, but rather a 26 bp insertion allele, and a complex 38 kb knock-in allele with seven copies of the SRY-GFP template and a single copy of the donor plasmid backbone. An additional minor 18 kb allele was detected that looks to be a derivative of the 38 kb allele resulting from the deletion of an inverted repeat of four copies of the SRY-GFP template.


The allelic heterogeneity in this biallelic knock-in calf appears to have resulted from a combination of homology directed repair, homology independent targeted insertion by blunt-end ligation, NHEJ, and rearrangement following editing of the gRNA target site in the donor template. This study illustrates the potential to produce targeted gene knock-in animals by direct cytoplasmic injection of bovine embryos with gRNA/Cas9, although further optimization is required to ensure a precise single-copy gene integration event.

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