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Rhizobium tropici Genes Involved in Free-Living Salt Tolerance are Required for the Establishment of Efficient Nitrogen-Fixing Symbiosis with Phaseolus vulgaris

March 2002 , Volume 15 , Number  3
Pages  225 - 232

Joaquina Nogales , 1 Rosario Campos , 2 Hanaa BenAbdelkhalek , 1 , 2 José Olivares , 1 Carmen Lluch , 2 and Juan Sanjuan 1

1Departamento de Microbiología del Suelo y Sistemas Simbióticos, Estación Experimental del Zaidín, CSIC. Profesor Albareda 1, E-18008 Granada, Spain; 2Departamento de Biología Vegetal, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Granada. Campus de Fuentenueva, E-18003 Granada, Spain

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Accepted 26 November 2001.

Characterization of nine transposon-induced mutants of Rhizobium tropici with decreased salt tolerance (DST) allowed the identification of eight gene loci required for adaptation to high external NaCl. Most of the genes also were involved in adaptation to hyperosmotic media and were required to overcome the toxicity of LiCl. According to their possible functions, genes identified could be classified into three groups. The first group included two genes involved in regulation of gene expression, such as ntrY, the sensor element of the bacterial ntrY/ntrX two-component regulatory system involved in regulation of nitrogen metabolism, and greA, which encodes a transcription elongation factor. The second group included genes related to synthesis, assembly, or maturation of proteins, such as alaS coding for alanine-tRNA synthetase, dnaJ, which encodes a molecular chaperone, and a nifS homolog probably encoding a cysteine desulfurase involved in the maturation of Fe-S proteins. Genes related with cellular build-up and maintenance were in the third group, such as a noeJ-homolog, encoding a mannose-1-phosphate guanylyltransferase likely involved in lipopolysaccharide biosynthesis, and kup, specifying an inner-membrane protein involved in potassium uptake. Another gene was identified that had no homology to known genes but that could be conserved in other rhizobia. When inoculated on Phaseolus vulgaris growing under nonsaline conditions, all DST mutants displayed severe symbiotic defects: ntrY and noeJ mutants were impaired in nodulation, and the remaining mutants formed symbiosis with very reduced nitrogenase activity. The results suggest that bacterial ability to adapt to hyper-osmotic and salt stress is important for the bacteroid nitrogen-fixing function inside the legume nodule and provide genetic evidence supporting the suggestion that rhizobia face severe environmental changes after their release into plant cells.

Additional keywords: common bean , environmental stress , legumes , salinity .

© 2002 The American Phytopathological Society