Cas13b-dependent and Cas13b-independent RNA knockdown of viral sequences in mosquito cells following guide RNA expression

Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes are vectors of the RNA viruses chikungunya (CHIKV) and dengue that currently have no specific therapeutic treatments. The development of new methods to generate virus-refractory mosquitoes would be beneficial. Cas13b is an enzyme that uses RNA guides to target and cleave RNA molecules and has been reported to suppress RNA viruses in mammalian and plant cells. We investigated the potential use of the Prevotella sp. P5-125 Cas13b system to provide viral refractoriness in mosquito cells, using a virus-derived reporter and a CHIKV split replication system. Cas13b in combination with suitable guide RNAs could induce strong suppression of virus-derived reporter RNAs in insect cells. Surprisingly, the RNA guides alone (without Cas13b) also gave substantial suppression. Our study provides support for the potential use of Cas13b in mosquitoes, but also caution in interpreting CRISPR/Cas data as we show that guide RNAs can have Cas-independent effects.

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