Efficient inhibition of African swine fever virus replication by CRISPR/Cas9 targeting of the viral p30 gene (CP204L)
African swine fever is a devastating viral disease of domestic and wild pigs against which no vaccine or therapy is available. Therefore, we applied the CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) – Cas9 nuclease system to target the double-stranded DNA genome of African swine fever virus (ASFV). To this end, a permissive wild boar lung (WSL) cell line was modified by stable transfection with a plasmid encoding Cas9 and a guide RNA targeting codons 71 to 78 of the phosphoprotein p30 gene (CP204L) of ASFV. Due to targeted Cas9 cleavage of the virus genome, plaque formation of ASFV was completely abrogated and virus yields were reduced by four orders of magnitude. The specificity of these effects could be demonstrated by using a natural ASFV isolate and escape mutants possessing nucleotide exchanges within the target sequence, which were not inhibited in the Cas9-expressing cell line. Growth of the cell line was not affected by transgene expression which, as well as virus inhibition, proved to be stable over at least 50 passages. Thus, CRISPR-Cas9 mediated targeting of the ASFV p30 gene is a valid strategy to convey resistance against ASF infection, which may also be applied in its natural animal host.