Biology & Philosophy

, 34:6 | Cite as

CRISPR-Cas immunity: beyond nonself and defence

  • Thomas PradeuEmail author
  • Jean-François Moreau


In this commentary of Koonin’s target paper, we defend an extended view of CRISPR-Cas immunity by arguing that CRISPR-Cas includes, but cannot be reduced to, defence against nonself. CRISPR-Cas systems can target endogenous elements (for example in DNA repair) and tolerate exogenous elements (for example some phages). We conclude that the vocabulary of “defence” and “nonself” might be misleading when describing CRISPR-Cas systems.


CRISPR-Cas Immune system Self Nonself Phage Virus Defence Repair Autoimmunity Tolerance Bacteria Archaea Microbiota 



We would like to thank Michael Weisberg for the opportunity to write about the philosophical and immunological dimensions of the CRISPR-Cas system, and Eugene Koonin for his extremely innovative and stimulating ideas.


TP has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme—Grant Agreement no. 637647—IDEM.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ImmunoConcept, CNRS UMR5164University of BordeauxBordeauxFrance
  2. 2.Institut d’histoire et de philosophie des sciences et des techniques (IHPST), CNRS UMR8590Panthéon-Sorbonne UniversityParisFrance
  3. 3.Department of ImmunologyCHU Bordeaux HospitalBordeauxFrance

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