Polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies have been invaluable tools to study proteins over the past decades. While indispensable for most biological studies including developmental biology, antibodies have been used mostly in fixed tissues or as binding reagents in the extracellular milieu. For functional studies and for clinical applications, antibodies have been functionalized by covalently fusing them to heterologous partners (i.e., chemicals, proteins or other moieties). Such functionalized antibodies have been less widely used in developmental biology studies. In the past few years, the discovery and application of small functional binding fragments derived from single-chain antibodies, so-called nanobodies, has resulted in novel approaches to study proteins during the development of multicellular animals in vivo. Expression of functionalized nanobody fusions from integrated transgenes allows manipulating proteins of interest in the extracellular and the intracellular milieu in a tissue- and time-dependent manner in an unprecedented manner. Here, we describe how nanobodies have been used in the field of developmental biology and look into the future to imagine how else nanobody-based reagents could be further developed to study the proteome in living organisms.
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