Jernej Turnšek is a graduate student in the Allen Lab studying iron metabolism, chloroplast biology and biosilicification in diatoms. Jernej completed his Diploma in Biotechnology at University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and became a 2010 iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine competition) World Champion in the process. He co-invented a DNA scaffold-based approach for improving heterologous biosynthetic pathways and worked on DNA origami functionalization as part of his thesis work at the National Institute of Chemistry, Ljubljana, Slovenia. He then spent a year at Ginkgo Bioworks, Inc., Boston, MA, engineering bacteria for high-added value metabolite production.

Jernej’s motivation to study marine microbes in his PhD is summed up as follows: “The realization that we know so little about the Earth’s oceans, along with the advent of modern experimental techniques such as next generation sequencing and advanced microscopy methods, prompts me to believe that some of the major advances in the fields ranging from basic biochemistry, enzymology, metabolism, signaling, microbial interactions, and ecology, to medicinal natural products discovery, biomaterials, biogeochemistry, and origins of life will come from the oceans over the next few decades.”

Jernej applied a genetically encoded tool for electron microscopy and subcellular proteomics to Phaeodactylum tricornutum and elucidated new candidate proteins involved in iron receptor endocytosis in this model diatom. He is extending the use of this tool to other compartments in diatoms including chloroplasts and silica deposition vesicles. He hopes in the future his—and related—approaches will be widely used to study cellular organization of emerging marine model microorganisms beyond diatoms.

Jernej is also a triathlete who has finished 2 half Ironman races and qualified for USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships twice.

Research Interests:

  • Molecular mechanisms and evolution of biomineralization
  • (Evolution of) intrinsically disordered proteins and membraneless organelles
  • Protein-based materials
  • Morphogenesis and pattern formation in biology
  • Polyamine metabolism
  • Origins of life and astrobiology


Turnšek, J., Revisited Thalassiosira pseudonana (Tp) conjugation protocol enables fusion protein delivery to Tp frustule (, DOI:, Feb 18, 2018).

Conrado, R. J., Wu G. C., Boock J. T., Xu H., Chen S .Y., Lebar T., Turnšek J., et al. DNA-guided assembly of biosynthetic pathways promotes improved catalytic efficiency. Nucleic Acids Res. 40, 1879–1889 (2012).