Institute of Biology Leiden, Leiden University, Wassenaarseweg 64, 2333AL Leiden, The Netherlands
Infection and subsequent nodulation of legume host plants by the root nodule symbiote Rhizobium leguminosarum usually require attachment of the bacteria to root-hair tips. Bacterial cellulose fibrils have been shown to be involved in this attachment process but appeared not to be essential for successful nodulation. Detailed analysis of Vicia sativa root-hair infection by wild-type Rhizobium leguminosarum RBL5523 and its cellulose fibril-deficient celE mutant showed that wild-type bacteria infected elongated growing root hairs, whereas cellulose-deficient bacteria infected young emerging root hairs. Exopolysaccharide-deficient strains that retained the ability to produce cellulose fibrils could also infect elongated root hairs but infection thread colonization was defective. Cellulose-mediated agglutination of these bacteria in the root-hair curl appeared to prevent entry into the induced infection thread. Infection experiments with V. sativa roots and an extracellular polysaccharide (EPS)- and cellulose-deficient double mutant showed that cellulose-mediated agglutination of the EPS-deficient bacteria in the infection thread was now abolished and that infection thread colonization was partially restored. Interestingly, in this case, infection threads were initiated in root hairs that originated from the cortical cell layers of the root and not in epidermal root hairs. Apparently, surface polysaccharides of R. leguminosarum, such as cellulose fibrils, are determining factors for infection of different developmental stages of root hairs.