The ternary Cas9–crRNA–tracrRNA complex (Cas9t) of the Type II CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)–Cas (CRISPR-associated) system functions as an Mg2+-dependent RNA-directed DNA endonuclease that locates its DNA target guided by the crRNA (CRISPR RNA) in the tracrRNA–crRNA structure and introduces a double-strand break at a specific site in DNA. The simple modular organization of Cas9t, where specificity for the DNA target is encoded by a small crRNA and the cleavage reaction is executed by the Cas9 endonuclease, provides a versatile platform for the engineering of universal RNA-directed DNA endonucleases. By altering the crRNA sequence within the Cas9t complex, programmable endonucleases can be designed for both in vitro and in vivo applications. Cas9t has been recently employed as a gene-editing tool in various eukaryotic cell types. Using Streptococcus thermophilus Cas9t as a model system, we demonstrate the feasibility of Cas9t as a programmable molecular tool for in vitro DNA manipulations.

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