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Chemical genetics is the study of biological systems using small molecule (‘chemical’) intervention, instead of only genetic intervention. Cell-permeable and selective small molecules can be used to perturb protein function rapidly, reversibly and conditionally with temporal and quantitative control in any biological system. This tutorial review has been written to introduce this emerging field to a broad audience and focuses later on areas of biology where either it has made a significant impact, or it has the potential to do so: signalling, cytoskeleton, development, protein–protein interactions and gene transcription.
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