Clonal analysis by tunable CRISPR-mediated excision
Clonal marking techniques based on the Cre/lox and Flp/FRT systems are widely used in multicellular model organisms to mark individual cells and their progeny, in order to study their morphology, growth properties and developmental fates. The same tools can be adapted to introduce specific genetic changes in a subset of cells within the body, i.e. to perform mosaic genetic analysis. Marking and manipulating distinct cell clones requires control over the frequency of clone induction, which is sometimes difficult to achieve. Here we present Valcyrie, a new method that replaces the conventional Cre or Flp recombinase-mediated excision of a marker cassette by CRISPR-mediated excision. A major advantage of this approach is that CRISPR efficiency can be tuned in a predictable fashion by manipulating the degree of sequence complementarity between the CRISPR guide RNA and its targets. We establish the method in the beetle Tribolium castaneum. We demonstrate that clone marking frequency can be tuned to generate embryos carrying single marked clones. The Valcyrie approach can be applied to a wide range of experimental settings, for example to modulate clone frequency with existing tools in established model organisms and to introduce clonal analysis in emerging experimental models.