Strains belonging to Aspergillus section Nigri, including Aspergillus niger, are used for industrial production of citric acid from carbohydrates such as molasses and starch. The objective of this study was to construct the genome editing system that could enable rapid and efficient gene replacement in citric acid-producing fungi for genetic breeding. Using the citric acid-hyperproducer A. tubingensis (formerly A. niger) WU-2223L as a model strain, we developed a CRISPR/Cas9 system-based genome editing technique involving co-transformation of Cas9 and the DNA fragment encoding single guide RNA (sgRNA). Using this system, ATP-sulfurylase gene (sC) knock-out strain derived from WU-2223L was generated; the knock-out efficiency was 29 transformants when 5 μg Cas9 was added to 5 × 105 protoplasts. In the gene replacement method based on this system, a DNA fragment encoding sgRNAs that target both the gene of interest and marker gene was used, and replacement of nitrate reductase gene (niaD) using sC gene as a marker gene was attempted. More than 90% of the sC-knock-out transformants exhibited replaced niaD, indicating efficient gene replacement. Moreover, one-step marker rescue of the sC marker gene was accomplished by excising the knock-in donor via intramolecular homologous recombination, enabling marker-free genome editing and drastically shortening the gene replacement period by circumventing the transformation procedure to recover the sC gene. Thus, we succeeded in constructing a CRISPR/Cas9 system-based rapid and marker-free gene replacement system for the citric acid-hyperproducer strain WU-2223L.
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