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Nucleic Acids Res. 2008 Apr;36(7):2163-73. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkn059. Epub 2008 Feb 14.

Computer design of obligate heterodimer meganucleases allows efficient cutting of custom DNA sequences.

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  • 1Structural Biology and Biocomputing Program, European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Meyerhofstrasse 1, D-69117 Heidelberg, Germany.


Meganucleases cut long (>12 bp) unique sequences in genomes and can be used to induce targeted genome engineering by homologous recombination in the vicinity of their cleavage site. However, the use of natural meganucleases is limited by the repertoire of their target sequences, and considerable efforts have been made to engineer redesigned meganucleases cleaving chosen targets. Homodimeric meganucleases such as I-CreI have provided a scaffold, but can only be modified to recognize new quasi-palindromic DNA sequences, limiting their general applicability. Other groups have used dimer-interface redesign and peptide linkage to control heterodimerization between related meganucleases such as I-DmoI and I-CreI, but until now there has been no application of this aimed specifically at the scaffolds from existing combinatorial libraries of I-CreI. Here, we show that engineering meganucleases to form obligate heterodimers results in functional endonucleases that cut non-palindromic sequences. The protein design algorithm (FoldX v2.7) was used to design specific heterodimer interfaces between two meganuclease monomers, which were themselves engineered to recognize different DNA sequences. The new monomers favour functional heterodimer formation and prevent homodimer site recognition. This design massively increases the potential repertoire of DNA sequences that can be specifically targeted by designed I-CreI meganucleases and opens the way to safer targeted genome engineering.

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