With the completion of the genome sequence, and development of an efficient conjugation-based transformation system allowing the introduction of stable episomes, Phaeodactylum tricornutum has become an ideal platform for the study of diatom biology and synthetic biology applications. The development of plasmid-based genetic tools is the next step to improve manipulation of this species. Here, we report the identification of endogenous P. tricornutum promoters and terminators allowing selective expression of antibiotic resistance markers from stably replicating plasmids in P. tricornutum. Significantly, we developed a protocol for sequential conjugation of plasmids from Escherichia coli to P. tricornutum and demonstrated simultaneous replication of two plasmids in P. tricornutum. We developed a simple and robust conjugative system for Cas9 editing that yielded up to 60% editing efficiency of the urease gene. Finally, we constructed a plasmid encoding eight genes involved in vanillin biosynthesis that was propagated in P. tricornutum over four months with no evidence of rearrangements, with whole-plasmid sequencing indicating that the majority of mutations occurred after plasmid assembly and initial conjugation rather than during long-term propagation. The plasmid-based tools described here will facilitate investigation of the basic biology of P. tricornutum and enable synthetic biology applications.
Keywords: CRISPR/Cas9; Phaeodactylum tricornutum; conjugation; diatoms; plasmid-based tools; synthetic pathway; two-plasmid system.