A CRISPR platform for targeted in vivo screens identifies Toxoplasma gondii virulence factors in mice

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Genome-wide CRISPR screening is a powerful tool to identify genes required under selective conditions. However, the inherent scale of genome-wide libraries can limit their application in experimental settings where cell numbers are restricted, such as in vivo infections or single cell analysis. The use of small scale CRISPR libraries targeting gene subsets circumvents this problem. Here we develop a method for rapid generation of custom guide RNA (gRNA) libraries using arrayed single-stranded oligonucleotides for reproducible pooled cloning of CRISPR/Cas9 libraries. We use this system to generate mutant pools of different sizes in the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondi and describe optimised analysis methods for small scale libraries. An in vivo genetic screen in the murine host identifies novel and known virulence factors and we confirm results using cloned knock-out parasites. Our study also reveals a potential trans-rescue of individual knock-out parasites in pools of mutants compared to homogenous knock-out lines of the key virulence factor MYR1.