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Background. The diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum is a model photosynthetic organism. Functional genomic work in this organism has established a variety of genetic tools including RNA interference (RNAi). RNAi is a post-transcriptional regulatory process that can be utilized to knockdown expression of genes of interest in eukaryotes. RNAi has been previously demonstrated in P. tricornutum, but in practice the efficiency of inducing RNAi is low. Methods. We developed an efficient method for construction of inverted repeat hairpins based on Golden Gate DNA assembly into a Gateway entry vector. The hairpin constructs were then transferred to a variety of destination vectors through the Gateway recombination system. After recombining the hairpin into the destination vector, the resulting expression vector was mobilized into P. tricornutum using direct conjugation from E. coli. Because the hairpin expression vectors had sequences allowing for episomal maintenance in P. tricornutum, we tested whether a consistent, episomal location for hairpin expression improved RNAi induction efficiency. Results. We successfully demonstrated that RNAi could be induced using hairpin constructs expressed from an episome. After testing two different reporter targets and a variety of hairpin sequences with 3 polymerase II and 2 polymerase III promoters, we achieved a maximal RNAi induction efficiency of 25% of lines displaying knockdown of reporter activity by 50% or more. We created many useful genetic tools through this work including Gateway destination vectors for P. tricornutum expression from a variety of polymerase II and III promoters including the P. tricornutumFCPB, H4, and 49202 polymerase II promoters as well as the U6 and snRNA polymerase III promoters. We also created Gateway destination vectors that allow a cassette cloned in an entry vector to be easily recombined into a transcriptional fusion with either ShBle or, for polymerase III promoters, the green fluorescent Spinach aptamer. Such transcriptional fusions allow for linkage of expression with a marker such as bleomycin resistance or fluorescence from the Spinach aptamer to easily select or screen for lines that maintain transgene expression. Discussion. While RNAi can be used as an effective tool for P. tricornutum genetics, especially where targeted knockouts may be lethal to the cell, induction of this process remains low efficiency. Techniques resulting in higher efficiency establishment of RNAi would be of great use to the diatom genetics community and would enable this technique to be used as a forward genetic tool for discovery of novel gene function.
This is the version 1 preprint. It includes methods and data for building inverted repeats using Golden Gate, use of the Gateway system to insert hairpins into novel, episomal destination vectors, and testing the resulting expression plasmids for the ability to induce RNAi using an episomally expressed hairpin. Still to come in a forthcoming version are more detailed data concerning RNAi induction using transcriptional fusions between the hairpins and ShBle or the Spinach aptamer.