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Programmable RNA Targeting Using CasRx in Flies


CRISPR-Cas genome editing technologies have revolutionized the fields of functional genetics and genome engineering, but with the recent discovery and optimization of RNA-targeting Cas ribonucleases, we may soon see a similar revolution in the study of RNA function and transcriptome engineering. However, to date, successful proof of principle for Cas ribonuclease RNA targeting in eukaryotic systems has been limited. Only recently has successful modification of RNA expression by a Cas ribonuclease been demonstrated in animal embryos. This previous work, however, did not evaluate endogenous expression of Cas ribonucleases and only focused on function in early developmental stages. A more comprehensive evaluation of this technology is needed to assess its potential impact. Here we report on our efforts to develop a programmable platform for RNA targeting using a Cas ribonuclease, CasRx, in the model organism Drosophila melanogaster. By genetically encoding CasRx in flies, we demonstrate moderate transcript targeting of known phenotypic genes in addition to unexpected toxicity and lethality. We also report on the off-target effects following on-target transcript cleavage by CasRx. Taken together, our results present the current state and limitations of a genetically encoded programmable RNA-targeting Cas system in Drosophila melanogaster, paving the way for future optimization of the system.

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