In type II CRISPR systems, the guide RNA (gRNA) comprises a CRISPR RNA (crRNA) and a hybridized trans-acting CRISPR RNA (tracrRNA), both being essential in guided DNA targeting functions. Although tracrRNAs are diverse in sequence and structure across type II CRISPR systems, the programmability of crRNA-tracrRNA hybridization for Cas9 is not fully understood. Here, we reveal the programmability of crRNA-tracrRNA hybridization for Streptococcus pyogenes Cas9, and in doing so, redefine the capabilities of Cas9 proteins and the sources of crRNAs, providing new biosensing applications for type II CRISPR systems. By reprogramming the crRNA-tracrRNA hybridized sequence, we show that engineered crRNA-tracrRNA interactions can not only enable the design of orthogonal cellular computing devices but also facilitate the hijacking of endogenous small RNAs/mRNAs as crRNAs. We subsequently describe how these re-engineered gRNA pairings can be implemented as RNA sensors, capable of monitoring the transcriptional activity of various environment-responsive genomic genes, or detecting SARS-CoV-2 RNA in vitro, as an Atypical gRNA-activated Transcription Halting Alarm (AGATHA) biosensor.


This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

Cite as

Liu, Y., Pinto, F., Wan, X., Yang, Z., Peng, S., Li, M., Cooper, J., Xie, Z., French, C. & Wang, B. 2022, 'Reprogrammed tracrRNAs enable repurposing of RNAs as crRNAs and sequence-specific RNA biosensors', Nature Communications, 13(1), article no: 1937. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-29604-x

Downloadable citations

Download HTML citationHTML Download BIB citationBIB Download RIS citationRIS
Last updated: 16 June 2022
Was this page helpful?