Directed evolution aims to expedite the natural evolution process of biological molecules and systems in a test tube through iterative rounds of gene diversifications and library screening/selection. It has become one of the most powerful and widespread tools for engineering improved or novel functions in proteins, metabolic pathways, and even whole genomes. This review describes the commonly used gene diversification strategies, screening/selection methods, and recently developed continuous evolution strategies for directed evolution. Moreover, we highlight some representative applications of directed evolution in engineering nucleic acids, proteins, pathways, genetic circuits, viruses, and whole cells. Finally, we discuss the challenges and future perspectives in directed evolution.
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