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PhD Defense

PhD Dissertation Defense: Jingyi Wei

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Effective and precise mammalian transcriptome engineering technologies are needed to accelerate biological discovery and RNA therapeutics. Despite the promise of programmable CRISPR-Cas13 ribonucleases, their utility has been hampered by an incomplete understanding of guide RNA design rules and cellular toxicity resulting from off-target or collateral RNA cleavage. Here, we quantified the performance of 127,000 RfxCas13d (CasRx) guide RNAs and systematically evaluated seven machine learning models to build a guide efficiency prediction algorithm (https://www.RNAtargeting.org), orthogonally validated across multiple human cell types. Deep learning model interpretation revealed preferred sequence motifs and secondary features for highly efficient guides. We next screened 46 novel Cas13d orthologs, finding that DjCas13d achieves low cellular toxicity and high specificity – even when targeted to abundant transcripts and sensitive cell types, including stem cells and neurons. Our Cas13d guide efficiency model successfully generalized to DjCas13d, illustrating the power of combining machine learning with ortholog discovery to advance RNA targeting in human cells.