Étudiant-chercheur étoile October 2014

Alexander Hynes

Postdoctoral student in Biochemistry
Université Laval

Award winning publicationAdaptation in Bacterial CRISPR-Cas Immunity Can Be Driven by Defective Phages

Published inNature Communications


"The study of CRISPR-Cas systems is particularly relevant to the province of Québec, as the history of the field is linked to that of large-scale industrial fermentations, like those used in the production of cheeses. These productions, dependent on specific bacterial strains, are highly susceptible to disruption by bacterial viruses (phages). In order to avoid these costly setbacks, considerable effort is expended to generate phage-resistant strains. By shedding light on the acquisition of new immunity, we can assist with this particular difficulty. In particular, using the tools proposed in this paper such as the UV-treatment of phages, we can speed up the process of generating resistant strains as well as potentially extend it to phage-host pairings. Taking a longer view, the further characterization of a key component of bacterial ecology (defense against viruses) cannot help but have far-reaching implications for everything from agriculture to human health."

The CRISPR-Cas field can benefit from Alexander Hynes' discovery on several levels. First of all, by offering an explanation for the existing paradox in the field, "how can cells acquire immunity quickly enough to avoid death", studying natural acquisition of CRISPR-Cas immunity is put into context. This breakthrough discovery helps explain the purpose, maintenance, evolution and limitations of this remarkable adaptive immunity. Secondly, it suggests new means to efficiently drive the generation of resistant strains, which allows the investigation of several CRISPR-Cas systems left unstudied.