Homing endonucleases: from microbial genetic invaders to reagents for targeted DNA modification

Structure. 2011 Jan 12;19(1):7-15. doi: 10.1016/j.str.2010.12.003.


Homing endonucleases are microbial DNA-cleaving enzymes that mobilize their own reading frames by generating double strand breaks at specific genomic invasion sites. These proteins display an economy of size, and yet recognize long DNA sequences (typically 20 to 30 base pairs). They exhibit a wide range of fidelity at individual nucleotide positions in a manner that is strongly influenced by host constraints on the coding sequence of the targeted gene. The activity of these proteins leads to site-specific recombination events that can result in the insertion, deletion, mutation, or correction of DNA sequences. Over the past fifteen years, the crystal structures of representatives from several homing endonuclease families have been solved, and methods have been described to create variants of these enzymes that cleave novel DNA targets. Engineered homing endonucleases proteins are now being used to generate targeted genomic modifications for a variety of biotech and medical applications.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA Repair
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / physiology
  • Endonucleases / chemistry*
  • Endonucleases / genetics
  • Endonucleases / physiology
  • Gene Targeting / methods
  • Genetic Engineering / methods
  • Humans
  • Microbiological Phenomena
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Engineering


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Endonucleases