Transformation and strain engineering of Tetrahymena

Methods Cell Biol. 2012;109:327-45. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-385967-9.00011-6.


Transformation of Tetrahymena by microinjection of DNA was established 25 years ago. This rather labor-intensive technique has since been shelved, replaced by less time consuming and more efficient methods, electroporation and biolistics. Conjugative electroporation is the method of choice for introducing autonomously replicating, rDNA-based vectors into Tetrahymena. These are maintained as high-copy linear mini-chromosomes. Versatile expression cassettes in these vectors facilitate expression of most genes. Transformation efficiencies are sufficiently high to permit screens using expression libraries. Biolistic transformation is primarily used to introduce DNA for integration into the genome by homologous recombination. This technique has greatly enhanced strain engineering of Tetrahymena through facilitating the disruption of genes (creating targeted knockout cell lines) or epitope-tagging coding regions, allowing researchers to take full advantage of the sequenced genome. The presence of both germline and somatic nuclei in these cells requires different strategies to target DNA to the desired compartment. This presents challenges, including the need to engineer the polygenic macronuclear genome, which has nearly 50 copies of each gene. However, separate manipulation of functionally distinct genomes provides experimental opportunities, especially for the analysis of essential genes, by modifying the silent micronucleus then subsequently examining phenotypes in the next sexual generation. The flexibility to engineer strains as needed makes Tetrahymena a facile system with which to answer many biological questions.

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Biolistics / methods
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Chromosomes / genetics
  • Chromosomes / metabolism
  • Conjugation, Genetic
  • DNA, Protozoan*
  • Electroporation / methods
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Genetic Engineering / methods*
  • Genetic Loci
  • Genetic Vectors / genetics
  • Genetic Vectors / metabolism
  • Genome, Protozoan*
  • Macronucleus / genetics
  • Macronucleus / metabolism
  • Micronucleus, Germline / genetics
  • Micronucleus, Germline / metabolism
  • Phenotype
  • Reproduction
  • Tetrahymena / genetics*
  • Tetrahymena / growth & development
  • Tetrahymena / metabolism
  • Transformation, Genetic


  • Biomarkers
  • DNA, Protozoan