Site-specific recombinases are tremendously valuable tools for basic research and genetic engineering. By promoting high-fidelity DNA modifications, site-specific recombination systems have empowered researchers with unprecedented control over diverse biological functions, enabling countless insights into cellular structure and function. The rigid target specificities of many sites-specific recombinases, however, have limited their adoption in fields that require highly flexible recognition abilities. As a result, intense effort has been directed toward altering the properties of site-specific recombination systems by protein engineering. Here, we review key developments in the rational design and directed molecular evolution of site-specific recombinases, highlighting the numerous applications of these enzymes across diverse fields of study. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2014;111: 1–15. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.