Summary The pentatricopeptide repeat (PPR) protein family, which is particularly prevalent in plants, includes many sequence-specific RNA-binding proteins involved in all aspects of organelle RNA metabolism, including RNA stability, processing, editing and translation. PPR proteins consist of a tandem array of 2-30 PPR motifs, each of which aligns to one nucleotide in the RNA target. The amino acid side chains at two or three specific positions in each motif confer nucleotide specificity in a predictable and programmable manner. Thus, PPR proteins appear to provide an extremely promising opportunity to create custom RNA-binding proteins with tailored specificity. We summarize recent progress in understanding RNA recognition by PPR proteins, with a particular focus on potential applications of PPR-based tools for manipulating RNA, and on the challenges that remain to be overcome before these tools may be routinely used by the scientific community. © 2014 The Authors The Plant Journal © 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.