Functional genetics for all: engineered nucleases, CRISPR and the gene editing revolution.
Developmental biology, as all experimental science, is empowered by technological advances. The availability of genetic tools in some species - designated as model organisms - has driven their use as major platforms for understanding development, physiology and behavior. Extending these tools to a wider range of species determines whether (and how) we can experimentally approach developmental diversity and evolution. During the last two decades, comparative developmental biology (evo-devo) was marked by the introduction of gene knockdown and deep sequencing technologies that are applicable to a wide range of species. These approaches allowed us to test the developmental role of specific genes in diverse species, to study biological processes that are not accessible in established models and, in some cases, to conduct genome-wide screens that overcome the limitations of the candidate gene approach. The recent discovery of CRISPR/Cas as a means of precise alterations into the genome promises to revolutionize developmental genetics. In this review we describe the development of gene editing tools, from zinc-finger nucleases to TALENs and CRISPR, and examine their application in gene targeting, their limitations and the opportunities they present for evo-devo. We outline their use in gene knock-out and knock-in approaches, and in manipulating gene functions by directing molecular effectors to specific sites in the genome. The ease-of-use and efficiency of CRISPR in diverse species provide an opportunity to close the technology gap that exists between established model organisms and emerging genetically-tractable species.
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