CRISPR/Cas9 genome engineering has revolutionised all aspects of biological research, with epigenome engineering transforming gene regulation studies. Here, we present an optimised, adaptable toolkit enabling genome and epigenome engineering in the chicken embryo, and demonstrate its utility by probing gene regulatory interactions mediated by neural crest enhancers. First, we optimise novel efficient guide-RNA mini expression vectors utilising chick U6 promoters, provide a strategy for rapid somatic gene knockout and establish a protocol for evaluation of mutational penetrance by targeted next-generation sequencing. We show that CRISPR/Cas9-mediated disruption of transcription factors causes a reduction in their cognate enhancer-driven reporter activity. Next, we assess endogenous enhancer function using both enhancer deletion and nuclease-deficient Cas9 (dCas9) effector fusions to modulate enhancer chromatin landscape, thus providing the first report of epigenome engineering in a developing embryo. Finally, we use the synergistic activation mediator (SAM) system to activate an endogenous target promoter. The novel genome and epigenome engineering toolkit developed here enables manipulation of endogenous gene expression and enhancer activity in chicken embryos, facilitating high-resolution analysis of gene regulatory interactions in vivo.
Development (Cambridge, England)