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Saprophytic Intracellular Rhizobia in Alfalfa Nodules

November 2000 , Volume 13 , Number  11
Pages  1,204 - 1,213

Antonius C. J. Timmers , Eric Soupène , Marie-Christine Auriac , Françoise de Billy , Jacques Vasse , Pierre Boistard , and Georges Truchet

Laboratoire de Biologie Moléculaire des Relations Plantes-Microorganismes, CNRS-INRA, BP 27, 31326 Castanet-Tolosan Cedex, France

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Accepted 20 July 2000.

In indeterminate alfalfa nodules, the establishment of the senescent zone IV, in which both symbionts undergo simultaneous degeneration, has been considered, until now, as the end point of the symbiotic interaction. However, we now describe an additional zone, zone V, proximal to the senescent zone IV and present in alfalfa nodules more than 6 weeks old. In zone V, a new round of bacterial release occurs from remaining infection threads, leading to the reinvasion of plant cells that have completely senesced. These intracellular rhizobia are rod shaped and do not display the ultrastructural differentiation features of bac-teroids observed in the more distal zones of the nodule. Interestingly, we have found that oxygen is available in zone V at a concentration compatible with both bacterial development and nitrogen fixation gene expression in newly released rhizobia. However, this expression is not correlated with acetylene reduction. Moreover, the pattern of nifH expression in this zone, as well as new data relating to expression in zone II, strongly suggest that nifH transcription in the nodule is under the control of a negative regulator in addition to oxygen. Our results support the conclusion that zone V is an ecological niche where intracellular rhizobia take advantage of the interaction for their exclusive benefit and live as parallel saprophytic partners. The demonstration of such an advantage for rhizobia in nodules was the missing evidence that Rhizobium-legume interactions are indeed symbiotic and, in particular, suggests that benefits to the two partners are associated with different developmental stages within the nodule.

Additional keywords: nodulation, nodule development, rhizobium, symbiosis.

© 2000 The American Phytopathological Society