Single-gene knockout experiments can fail to reveal function in the context of redundancy, which is frequently observed among duplicated genes (paralogs) with overlapping functions. We discuss the complexity associated with studying paralogs and outline how recent advances in CRISPR will help address the "phenotype gap" and impact biomedical research.
The tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) family of tumor suppressors, TSC1 and TSC2, function together in an evolutionarily conserved protein complex that is a point of convergence for major cell signaling pathways that regulate mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1). Mutation or aberrant inhibition of the TSC complex is common in various human tumor syndromes and cancers. The discovery of novel therapeutic strategies to selectively target cells with functional loss of this complex is therefore of clinical relevance to patients with nonmalignant TSC and those with sporadic cancers. We developed a CRISPR-based method to generate homogeneous mutant Drosophila cell lines. By combining TSC1 or TSC2 mutant cell lines with RNAi screens against all kinases and phosphatases, we identified synthetic interactions with TSC1 and TSC2. Individual knockdown of three candidate genes (mRNA-cap, Pitslre, and CycT; orthologs of RNGTT, CDK11, and CCNT1 in humans) reduced the population growth rate of Drosophila cells lacking either TSC1 or TSC2 but not that of wild-type cells. Moreover, individual knockdown of these three genes had similar growth-inhibiting effects in mammalian TSC2-deficient cell lines, including human tumor-derived cells, illustrating the power of this cross-species screening strategy to identify potential drug targets.