Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, Leiden University, Wassenaarseweg 64, 2333 AL Leiden, The Netherlands
Division of cortical cells in roots of leguminous plants is triggered by lipochitin oligosaccharides (LCOs) secreted by the rhizobial microsymbiont. Previously, we have shown that presence of pea lectin in transgenic white clover hairy roots renders these roots susceptible to induction of root nodule formation by pea-specific rhizobia (C. L. Díaz, L. S. Melchers, P. J. J. Hooykaas, B. J. J. Lugtenberg, and J. W. Kijne, Nature 338:579--581, 1989). Here, we report that pea lectin-transformed red clover hairy roots form nodule primordium-like structures after inoculation with pea-, alfalfa-, and Lotus-specific rhizobia, which normally do not nodulate red clover. External application of a broad range of purified LCOs showed all of them to be active in induction of cortical cell divisions and cell expansion in a radial direction, resulting in formation of structures that resemble nodule primordia induced by clover-specific rhizobia. This activity was obvious in about 50% of the red clover plants carrying hairy roots transformed with the pea lectin gene. Also, chitopentaose, chitotetraose, chitotriose, and chitobiose were able to induce cortical cell divisions and cell expansion in a radial direction in transgenic roots, but not in control roots. Sugarbinding activity of pea lectin was essential for its effect. These results show that transformation of red clover roots with pea lectin results in a broadened response of legume root cortical cells to externally applied potentially mitogenic oligochitin signals.