Many conventional, modern genome engineering tools cannot be used to study mitochondrial genetics due to the unusual structure and physiology of the mitochondrial genome. Here, we review a number of newly developed, synthetic biology-based approaches for altering levels of mutant mammalian mitochondrial DNA and mitochondrial RNAs, including transcription activator-like effector nucleases, zinc finger nucleases and engineered RNA-binding proteins. These approaches allow researchers to manipulate and visualize mitochondrial processes and may provide future therapeutics. This article is part of the theme issue 'Linking the mitochondrial genotype to phenotype: a complex endeavour'.
Keywords: mitochondria; mitochondrial disease; mitochondrial restriction enzymes; mitochondrial transcription activator-life effectors nucleases; mitochondrial zinc finger nucleases; synthetic biology.