bioRxiv, July, 164384. doi:10.1101/164384. (final version accepted at Molecular Systems Biology)
Over the past few years, tools that make use of the Cas9 nuclease have led to many breakthroughs, including in the control of gene expression. The catalytically dead variant of Cas9 known as dCas9 can be guided by small RNAs to block transcription of target genes, in a strategy also known as CRISPRi. Here, we reveal that the level of complementarity between the guide RNA and the target controls the rate at which RNA polymerase ‘kicks out’ dCas9 from the target and completes transcription. We use this mechanism to precisely and robustly reduce gene expression by defined relative amounts. Alternatively, tuning repression by changing dCas9 concentration is noisy and promoter-strength dependent. We demonstrate broad applicability of this method to the study of genetic regulation and cellular physiology. First, we characterize feedback strength of a model auto-repressor. Second, we study the impact of amount variations of cell-wall synthesizing enzymes on cell morphology. Finally, we multiplex the system to obtain any combination of fractional repression of two genes.