The fields of molecular genetics, biotechnology and synthetic biology are demanding ever more sophisticated molecular tools for programmed precise modification of cell genomic DNA and other DNA sequences. This review presents the current state of knowledge and development of one important group of DNA-modifying enzymes, the site-specific recombinases (SSRs). SSRs are Nature's ‘molecular machines’ for cut-and-paste editing of DNA molecules by inserting, deleting or inverting precisely defined DNA segments. We survey the SSRs that have been put to use, and the types of applications for which they are suitable. We also discuss problems associated with uses of SSRs, how these problems can be minimized, and how recombinases are being re-engineered for improved performance and novel applications.

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