John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7UH, U.K.
Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. viciae can attach to the roots of legume and non-legume plants. We wanted to determine whether root exudates could affect in vitro surface attachment in a confocal microscopy assay. Root exudate from pea, other legumes, wheat, and Arabidopsis induced R. leguminosarum bv. viciae to attach end-on (in a polar manner) to glass in hexagonal close-packed arrays, rather than attaching along their long axis. This did not involve a reorientation but was probably due to altered growth. The polar attachment involves a novel bacterial component because it occurred in mutants lacking a symbiosis plasmid (and hence nodulation genes) and polar glucomannan. The major surface (acidic) exopolysaccharide was required, and mutations affecting exported proteins and flagella delayed but did not block polar attachment. The polar attachment activity was purified as a high molecular weight fraction from pea root exudate and is an arabinogalactan protein (AGP) based on its carbohydrate content, reactivity with AGP-specific monoclonal antibodies and Yariv reagent, and sensitivity to enzymes that degrade proteins and carbohydrates. We propose that this novel mode of AGP-induced attachment may be important for growth of these bacteria on the roots of both legumes and non-legumes.