In this commentary of Koonin’s target paper, we defend an extended view of CRISPR-Cas immunity by arguing that CRISPR-Cas includes, but cannot be reduced to, defence against nonself. CRISPR-Cas systems can target endogenous elements (for example in DNA repair) and tolerate exogenous elements (for example some phages). We conclude that the vocabulary of “defence” and “nonself” might be misleading when describing CRISPR-Cas systems.
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In some cases, including CRISPR-Cas systems, tolerated foreign elements can even be transmitted to the offspring, allowing adaptations at the level of populations and/or species.
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We would like to thank Michael Weisberg for the opportunity to write about the philosophical and immunological dimensions of the CRISPR-Cas system, and Eugene Koonin for his extremely innovative and stimulating ideas.
TP has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme—Grant Agreement no. 637647—IDEM.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
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Pradeu, T., Moreau, J. CRISPR-Cas immunity: beyond nonself and defence. Biol Philos 34, 6 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10539-018-9665-8
- Immune system