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Stable transformation of an episomal protein-tagging shuttle vector in the piscine diplomonad Spironucleus vortens.



Diplomonads are common free-living inhabitants of anoxic aquatic environments and are also found as intestinal commensals or parasites of a wide variety of animals. Spironucleus vortens is a putatively commensal diplomonad of angelfish that grows to high cell densities in axenic culture. Genomic sequencing of S. vortens is in progress, yet little information is available regarding molecular and cellular aspects of S. vortens biology beyond descriptive ultrastructural studies. To facilitate the development of S. vortens as an additional diplomonad experimental model, we have constructed and stably transformed an episomal plasmid containing an enhanced green fluorescent protein (GFP) tag, an AU1 epitope tag, and a tandem affinity purification (TAP) tag. This construct also contains selectable antibiotic resistance markers for both S. vortens and E. coli.


Stable transformants of S. vortens grew relatively rapidly (within 7 days) after electroporation and were maintained under puromycin selection for over 6 months. We expressed the enhanced GFP variant, eGFP, under transcriptional control of the S. vortens histone H3 promoter, and visually confirmed diffuse GFP expression in over 50% of transformants. Next, we generated a histone H3::GFP fusion using the S. vortens conventional histone H3 gene and its native promoter. This construct was also highly expressed in the majority of S. vortens transformants, in which the H3::GFP fusion localized to the chromatin in both nuclei. Finally, we used fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) of the episomal plasmid to show that the transformed plasmid localized to only one nucleus/cell and was present at roughly 10-20 copies per nucleus. Because S. vortens grows to high densities in laboratory culture, it is a feasible diplomonad from which to purify native protein complexes. Thus, we also included a TAP tag in the plasmid constructs to permit future tagging and subsequent purification of protein complexes by affinity chromatography via a two-step purification procedure.


Currently, progress in protistan functional and comparative genomics is hampered by the lack of free-living or commensal protists in axenic culture, as well as a lack of molecular genetic tools with which to study protein function in these organisms. This stable transformation protocol combined with the forthcoming genome sequence allows Spironucleus vortens to serve as a new experimental model for cell biological studies and for comparatively assessing protein functions in related diplomonads such as the human intestinal parasite, Giardia intestinalis.

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