Image_5_Multiplexed Knockouts in the Model Diatom Phaeodactylum by Episomal Delivery of a Selectable Cas9.jpeg

Marine diatoms are eukaryotic microalgae that play significant ecological and biogeochemical roles in oceans. They also have significant potential as organismal platforms for exploitation to address biotechnological and industrial goals. In order to address both modes of research, sophisticated molecular and genetic tools are required. We presented here new and improved methodologies for introducing CRISPR-Cas9 to the model diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum cells and a streamlined protocol for genotyping mutant cell lines with previously unknown phenotypes. First, bacterial-conjugation was optimized for the delivery of Cas9 by transcriptionally fusing Cas9 to a selectable marker by the 2A peptide. An episome cloning strategy using both negative and positive selection was developed to streamline CRISPR-episome assembly. Next, cell line picking and genotyping strategies, that utilize manual sequencing curation, TIDE sequencing analysis, and a T7 endonuclease assay, were developed to shorten the time required to generate mutants. Following this new experimental pipeline, both single-gene and two-gene knockout cell lines were generated at mutagenesis efficiencies of 48% and 25%, respectively. Lastly, a protocol for precise gene insertions via CRISPR-Cas9 targeting was developed using particle-bombardment transformation methods. Overall, the novel Cas9 episome design and improved genotyping methods presented here allow for quick and easy genotyping and isolation of Phaeodactylum mutant cell lines (less than 3 weeks) without relying on a known phenotype to screen for mutants.