1Institute of Biotechnology, Technical University, Seestrasse 13, 13353 Berlin, Germany; 2Centro de Investigación sobre Fijación de Nitrógeno, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Apdo. Postal 565-A, Cuernavaca, Morelos, CP62210, México; 3Department of Biochemistry, Michigan State University, East Lansing 48824-1319, U.S.A.
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Accepted 24 February 2000.
The sulfolipid sulfoquinovosyldiacylglycerol is commonly found in the thylakoid membranes of photosynthetic bacteria and plants. While there is a good correlation between the occurrence of sulfolipid and photosynthesis, a number of exceptions are known. Most recently, sulfoquinovosyldiacylglycerol was discovered in the non-photosynthetic, root nodule-forming bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti. This discovery raised the questions of the phylogenetic origin of genes essential for the biosynthesis of this lipid in S. meliloti and of a function of sulfolipid in root nodule symbiosis. To begin to answer these questions, we isolated and inactivated the sqdB gene of S. meliloti. This gene and two other genes located directly 3′ of sqdB are highly similar to the sqdB, sqdC, and sqdD genes known to be essential for sulfolipid biosynthesis in the photosynthetic, purple bacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides. This observation confirms the close phylogenetic kinship between these two species. Furthermore, the reduced similarity of sqdB to the plant ortholog SQD1 of Arabidopsis thaliana does not support a previous sqd gene transfer from the plant as a consequence of close symbiosis. A sul-folipid-deficient mutant of S. meliloti disrupted in sqdB is capable of inducing functional nodules and does not show an obvious disadvantage under different laboratory culture conditions. Thus far, no specific function can be assigned to bacterial sulfolipid, in either nodule-associated or free-living cells. S. meliloti contains a rich set of polar membrane lipids some of which, including sulfolipid, may become critical only under growth conditions that still need to be discovered.
© 2000 The American Phytopathological Society