Rapid construction and screening of artificial microRNA systems in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii



The unicellular green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is a classic model for the study of flagella/cilia and photosynthesis, and it has recently been exploited for producing biopharmaceuticals and biofuel. Due to the low frequency of homologous recombination, reverse genetic manipulation in Chlamydomonas relies mainly on miRNA- and siRNA-based knockdown methods. However, the difficulty in constructing artificial miRNA vectors, laborious screening of knockdown transformants, and undesired epigenetic silencing of exogenous miRNA constructs limit their application. We have established a one-step procedure to construct an artificial miRNA precursor by annealing eight oligonucleotides of approximately 40 nucleotides. In the final construct, the Gaussia princeps luciferase gene (G-Luc) is positioned between the promoter and the artificial miRNA precursor so that knockdown strains may quickly be screened by visualizing luciferase luminescence using a photon-counting camera. Furthermore, the luciferase activity of transformants correlates with the knockdown level of two test target proteins: the chloroplast protein VIPP1 (vesicle inducing protein in plastids 1) and the flagellar protein CDPK3 (calcium-dependent protein kinase 3). Adding an intron from RBCS2 (ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase small subunit 2) to the miRNA construct enhanced both the luciferase activity and the miRNA knockdown efficiency. A second miRNA vector incorporated the promoter of the nitrate reductase gene to allow inducible expression of the artificial miRNA. These vectors will facilitate application of the artificial miRNA and provide tools for studying the mechanism of epigenetics in Chlamydomonas, and may also be adapted for use in other model organisms.