Non-homologous end-joining-deficient filamentous fungal strains mitigate the impact of off-target mutations during the application of CRISPR/Cas9

Sandra Garrigues, Mao Peng, Roland S Kun, Ronald P de Vries

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology has been implemented in almost all living organisms. Its editing precision appears to be very high and therefore could represent a big change from conventional genetic engineering approaches. However, guide RNA binding to nucleotides similar to the target site could result in undesired off-target mutations. Despite this, evaluating whether mutations occur is rarely performed in genome editing studies. In this study, we generated CRISPR/Cas9-derived filamentous fungal strains and analyzed them for the occurrence of mutations, and to which extent genome stability affects their occurrence. As a test case, we deleted the (hemi-)cellulolytic regulator-encoding gene xlnR in two Aspergillus niger strains: a wild type (WT) and a non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ)-deficient strain Δ kusA. Initial phenotypic analysis suggested a much higher prevalence of mutations in the WT compared to NHEJ-deficient strains, which was confirmed and quantified by whole-genome sequencing analysis. Our results clearly demonstrate that CRISPR/Cas9 applied to an NHEJ-deficient strain is an efficient strategy to avoid unwanted mutations. IMPORTANCE Filamentous fungi are commonly used biofactories for the production of industrially relevant proteins and metabolites. Often, fungal biofactories undergo genetic development (genetic engineering, genome editing, etc.) aimed at improving production yields. In this context, CRISPR/Cas9 has gained much attention as a genome editing strategy due to its simplicity, versatility, and precision. However, despite the high level of accuracy reported for CRISPR/Cas9, in some cases unintentional cleavages in non-targeted loci-known as off-target mutations-could arise. While biosafety should be a central feature of emerging biotechnologies to minimize unintended consequences, few studies quantitatively evaluate the risk of off-target mutations. This study demonstrates that the use of non-homologous end-joining-deficient fungal strains drastically reduces the number of unintended genomic mutations, ensuring that CRISPR/Cas9 can be safely applied for strain development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e0066823
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2023


  • CRISPR-Cas Systems
  • Gene Editing/methods
  • Mutation
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Aspergillus niger/genetics


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