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Journal of Bacteriology


Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-associated (Cas) systems in bacteria and archaea target foreign elements, such as bacteriophages and conjugative plasmids, through the incorporation of short sequences (termed spacers) from the foreign element into the CRISPR array, thereby allowing sequence-specific targeting of the invader. Thus, CRISPR-Cas systems are typically considered a microbial adaptive immune system. While many of these incorporated spacers match targets on bacteriophages and plasmids, a noticeable number are derived from chromosomal DNA. While usually lethal to the self-targeting bacteria, in certain circumstances, these self-targeting spacers can have profound effects in regard to microbial biology, including functions beyond adaptive immunity. In this minireview, we discuss recent studies that focus on the functions and consequences of CRISPR-Cas self-targeting, including reshaping of the host population, group behavior modification, and the potential applications of CRISPR-Cas self-targeting as a tool in microbial biotechnology. Understanding the effects of CRISPR-Cas self-targeting is vital to fully understanding the spectrum of function of these systems.