The CRISPR toolbox in medical mycology: State of the art and perspectives.


Morio F, Lombardi L, Butler G.
PLoS Pathog. 2020 Jan 16;16(1):e1008201.


Fungal pathogens represent a major human threat affecting more than a billion people worldwide. Invasive infections are on the rise, which is of considerable concern because they are accompanied by an escalation of antifungal resistance. Deciphering the mechanisms underlying virulence traits and drug resistance strongly relies on genetic manipulation techniques such as generating mutant strains carrying specific mutations, or gene deletions. However, these processes have often been time-consuming and cumbersome in fungi due to a number of complications, depending on the species (e.g., diploid genomes, lack of a sexual cycle, low efficiency of transformation and/or homologous recombination, lack of cloning vectors, nonconventional codon usage, and paucity of dominant selectable markers). These issues are increasingly being addressed by applying clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-Cas9 mediated genetic manipulation to medically relevant fungi. Here, we summarize the state of the art of CRISPR-Cas9 applications in four major human fungal pathogen lineages: Candida spp., Cryptococcus neoformans, Aspergillus fumigatus, and Mucorales. We highlight the different ways in which CRISPR has been customized to address the critical issues in different species, including different strategies to deliver the CRISPR-Cas9 elements, their transient or permanent expression, use of codon-optimized CAS9, and methods of marker recycling and scarless editing. Some approaches facilitate a more efficient use of homology-directed repair in fungi in which nonhomologous end joining is more commonly used to repair double-strand breaks (DSBs). Moreover, we highlight the most promising future perspectives, including gene drives, programmable base editors, and nonediting applications, some of which are currently available only in model fungi but may be adapted for future applications in pathogenic species. Finally, this review discusses how the further evolution of CRISPR technology will allow mycologists to tackle the multifaceted issue of fungal pathogenesis.