BackgroundPooled library CRISPR/Cas9 knockout screening across hundreds of cell lines has identified genes whose disruption leads to fitness defects, a critical step in identifying candidate cancer targets. However, the number of essential genes detected from these monogenic knockout screens is low compared to the number of constitutively expressed genes in a cell.ResultsThrough a systematic analysis of screen data in cancer cell lines generated by the Cancer Dependency Map, we observe that half of all constitutively expressed genes are never detected in any CRISPR screen and that these never-essentials are highly enriched for paralogs. We investigated functional buffering among approximately 400 candidate paralog pairs using CRISPR/enCas12a dual-gene knockout screening in three cell lines. We observe 24 synthetic lethal paralog pairs that have escaped detection by monogenic knockout screens at stringent thresholds. Nineteen of 24 (79%) synthetic lethal interactions are present in at least two out of three cell lines and 14 of 24 (58%) are present in all three cell lines tested, including alternate subunits of stable protein complexes as well as functionally redundant enzymes.ConclusionsTogether, these observations strongly suggest that functionally redundant paralogs represent a targetable set of genetic dependencies that are systematically under-represented among cell-essential genes in monogenic CRISPR-based loss of function screens.