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CRISPR J. 2018 Apr;1(2):141-158. doi: 10.1089/crispr.2018.0012.

Harnessing "A Billion Years of Experimentation": The Ongoing Exploration and Exploitation of CRISPR-Cas Immune Systems.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Columbia University , New York, New York.


The famed physicist-turned-biologist, Max Delbrück, once remarked that, for physicists, "the field of bacterial viruses is a fine playground for serious children who ask ambitious questions." Early discoveries in that playground helped establish molecular genetics, and half a century later, biologists delving into the same field have ushered in the era of precision genome engineering. The focus has of course shifted-from bacterial viruses and their mechanisms of infection to the bacterial hosts and their mechanisms of immunity-but it is the very same evolutionary arms race that continues to awe and inspire researchers worldwide. In this review, we explore the remarkable diversity of CRISPR-Cas adaptive immune systems, describe the molecular components that mediate nucleic acid targeting, and outline the use of these RNA-guided machines for biotechnology applications. CRISPR-Cas research has yielded far more than just Cas9-based genome-editing tools, and the wide-reaching, innovative impacts of this fascinating biological playground are sure to be felt for years to come.

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