Developing Genetic Tools for Eukaryotic Marine Microbes

Gaurav Sharma ’22

Figure 1. Aurantiochytrium limacinum; a eukaryotic marine eukaryotic microbe.

Sea life may hold one of the most diverse microbial ecosystems since we have not yet uncovered all of the mysteries and organisms teeming among the depths. Among the microbes that have been studied are eukaryotic microbes which range in diversity. When it comes to studying these organisms, researchers are presented with a challenge and can only genetically study some of these microbes which do not represent much diversity on a taxonomic level. The protocols for gene modification are only available for these organisms which hinders how much research can be done on these microbes. The necessity of new genetic tools to be created is highly demanded in order for advancement in this area of research to progress.

41 research groups collaborated in this endeavor, including those in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University. The microbes chosen to develop the genetic tools depended on its taxa and potential unigenes that can be researched. The Environmental Model Systems (EMS) initiative chose 39 species overall to study. The researchers eventually compiled a list of parameters and methods to induce successful transformations for each microbe. A roadmap for the creation of genetically tractable protists was also created. Researchers at Stony Brook University specifically created the protocol to genetically transform Aurantiochytrium limacinum.

The EMS initiative allows more research to now be done on eukaryotic microbes. Biotechnological applications and genome editing applications can also be applied to some of these organisms since these genetic tools have been created. The implications of this may go as far as allowing one of these eukaryotic microbes to serve as a model organism that can be used in more testing. A wide range of future testing and research advancement has now been unlocked because of these new genomic tools. 

[1] D. Faktorová et al. Genetic tool development in marine protists: emerging model organisms for experimental cell biology. Nature Methods 17, 481-494 (2020). doi:

[2] Image retrieved from:


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