David R. Benson,
James M. Brooks,
Derek M. Bickhart, and
Juliana E. Mastronunzio
Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, U-3125, University of Connecticut, Storrs, U.S.A.
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Accepted 31 July 2011.
Progress in understanding symbiotic determinants involved in the N2-fixing actinorhizal plant symbioses has been slow but steady. Problems persist with studying the bacterial contributions to the symbiosis using traditional microbiological techniques. However, recent years have seen the emergence of several genomes from Frankia sp. strains and the development of techniques for manipulating plant gene expression. Approaches to understanding the bacterial side of the symbiosis have employed a range of techniques that reveal the proteomes and transcriptomes from both cultured and symbiotic frankiae. The picture beginning to emerge provides some perspective on the heterogeneity of frankial populations in both conditions. In general, frankial populations in root nodules seem to maintain a rather robust metabolism that includes nitrogen fixation and substantial biosynthesis and energy-generating pathways, along with a modified ammonium assimilation program. To date, particular bacterial genes have not been implicated in root nodule formation but some hypotheses are emerging with regard to how the plant and microorganism manage to coexist. In particular, frankiae seem to present a nonpathogenic presence to the plant that may have the effect of minimizing some plant defense responses. Future studies using high-throughput approaches will likely clarify the range of bacterial responses to symbiosis that will need to be understood in light of the more rapidly advancing work on the plant host.
© 2011 The American Phytopathological Society