Phenotypic complementation of gene knock-outs is an essential step in establishing function. Here we describe a simple strategy for ‘gold standard’ complementation in which the mutant allele is replaced in situ with a wild type (WT) allele in a procedure that exploits CRISPR/Cas9. The method relies on the prior incorporation of a unique 24 nucleotide (nt) ‘bookmark’ sequence into the mutant allele to act as a guide RNA target during its Cas9-mediated replacement with the WT allele. The bookmark comprises a 23 nt Cas9 target sequence plus an additional nt to ensure the deletion is in-frame. Here, bookmarks are tailored to Streptococcus pyogenes CRISPR/Cas9, but could be designed for any CRISPR/Cas system. For proof of concept, 9 bookmarks were tested in Clostridium autoethanogenum. Complementation efficiencies reached 91%. As complemented strains are indistinguishable from their progenitors, concerns over contamination may be satisfied by incorporation of ‘watermark’ sequences into the complementing genes.
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