The discovery that the machinery of the Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)-Cas9 bacterial immune system can be re-purposed to easily create deletions, insertions and replacements in the mammalian genome has revolutionized the field of genome engineering and re-invigorated the field of gene therapy. Many parallels have been drawn between the newly discovered CRISPR-Cas9 system and the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway in terms of their utility for understanding and interrogating gene function in mammalian cells. Given this similarity, the CRISPR-Cas9 field stands to benefit immensely from lessons learned during the development of RNAi technology. We examine how the history of RNAi can inform today's challenges in CRISPR-Cas9 genome engineering such as efficiency, specificity, high-throughput screening and delivery for in vivo and therapeutic applications.
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