Major advances in gene-editing technologies have enabled the rapid dissection of proteins in complex biological systems, facilitating biological experiments to complement biochemical studies with purified components. In this editorial, we highlight CRISPR/Cas9-based strategies to rapidly manipulate endogenous genes — strategies that have already transformed functional studies of proteins in metazoan systems. We further describe emerging tools using a catalytically dead version of Cas9 (dCas9) that do not cleave DNA, but can alter gene expression and/or local chromatin states, edit single nucleotide bases, and permit the visualization of specific genomic loci. Looking to the not-too-distant future, CRISPR/Cas9-based methodologies promise to lead to discoveries of new biology, opening the door for bold new synthetic biology platforms.

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