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Robust and cost-effective genome editing in a diverse array of cells and model organisms is now possible thanks to the discovery of the RNA-guided endonucleases of the CRISPR-Cas system. The commonly used Cas9 of Streptococcus pyogenes shows high levels of activity but, depending on the application, has been associated with some shortcomings. Firstly, the enzyme has been shown to cause mutagenesis at genomic sequences resembling the target sequence. Secondly, the stringent requirement for a specific motif adjacent to the selected target site can limit the target range of this enzyme. Lastly, the physical size of Cas9 challenges the efficient delivery of genomic engineering tools based on this enzyme as viral particles for potential therapeutic applications. Related and parallel strategies have been employed to address these issues. Taking advantage of the wealth of structural information that is becoming available for CRISPR-Cas effector proteins, Cas9 has been redesigned by mutagenizing key residues contributing to activity and target recognition. The protein has also been shortened and redesigned into component subunits in an attempt to facilitate its efficient delivery. Furthermore, the CRISPR-Cas toolbox has been expanded by exploring the properties of Cas9 orthologues and other related effector proteins from diverse bacterial species, some of which exhibit different target site specificities and reduced molecular size. It is hoped that the improvements in accuracy, target range and efficiency of delivery will facilitate the therapeutic application of these site-specific nucleases.

Original publication




Journal article


Mammalian genome : official journal of the International Mammalian Genome Society

Publication Date





247 - 261


Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX3 7BN, UK.