Phaeodactylum tricornutum is a diatom . It is the only species in the genus Phaeodactylum . Unlike other diatoms P. tricornutum can exist in different morphotypes ( fusiform , triradiate, and oval), and exchange in cell shape can be stimulated by environmental conditions.  This feature can be used to explore the molecular basis of cell shape control and morphogenesis. Unlike most diatoms P. tricornutum can grow in the absence of silicon, and it can survive without making silicified frustules. This provides opportunities for experimental exploration of silicon-based nanofabrication in diatoms.
Another peculiarity is that during asexual reproduction the frustules do not appear to become smaller. This enables continuous culture without need for sexual reproduction. It is not known if P. tricornutum can reproduce sexually. To date no substantial evidence has been found to support sexual reproduction in a laboratory or other setting. Although P. tricornutum can be considered to be atypical pennate diatom it is one of the main diatom model species. RNAi vectors are available.   This makes molecular genetic studies much easier.
Phaeodactylum tricornutum is one of two diatoms whose genome has been sequenced (the other being Thalassiosira pseudonana ). The genome contains approximately 10% prokaryote-like genes, an unusually large proportion. Over 30000 expressed sequence tags (ESTs) have been organized into the Diatom EST Database . 
Phaeodactylum tricornutum has emerged as a potential microalgal energy source. It grows rapidly and storage lipids constitutes about 20-30% of its standard culture conditions.  Nitrogen limitation can induce neutral lipid accumulation in P. tricornutum , indicating possible strategies for improving microalgal biodiesel production.
- Jump up^ From Martino, A; Meichenin, A; Shi, J; Pan, KH; Bowler, C (2007). “Genetic and phenotypic characterization of Phaeodactylum tricornutum (Bacillariophyceae) accessions”. Journal of Phycology . 43 : 992-1009. doi : 10.1111 / j.1529-8817.2007.00384.x .
- Jump up^ Apt, KE; et al. (1996). “Molecular and General Genetics Stable nuclear transformation of the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum”. Molecular and General Genetics . 252 (5): 572-579. doi : 10.1007 / BF02172403 . PMID 8914518 .
- Jump up^ From Riso, V; Raniello, R .; Maumus, F .; Rogato, A .; Bowler, C .; Falciatore, A. (2009). “Gene silencing in the marine diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum”. Nucleic Acids Res . 37 (14): e96. doi : 10.1093 / n / gkp448 .
- Jump up^ Maheswari, U. et al. 2005. The Diatom EST Database. Nucleic Acids Research 33: D344-D347.
- Jump up^ Chisti, Y (May-Jun 2007). “Biodiesel from microalgae”. Biotechnology Advances . 25 (3): 294-306. doi : 10.1016 / j.biotechadv.2007.02.001 . PMID 17350212 .
- Jump up^ Yang, ZK; Niu, YF; Ma, YH; Xue, J; Zhang, MH; Yang, WD; Liu, JS; Lu, SH; Guan, Y; Li, HY (May 4, 2013). “Molecular and cellular mechanisms of neutral lipid accumulation in diatom following nitrogen deprivation” . Biotechnology for biofuels . 6 (1): 67. doi : 10.1186 / 1754-6834-6-67 . PMC 3662598 . PMID 23642220 .