Rhizobium meliloti nodulation genes: identification of nodDABC gene products, purification of nodA protein, and expression of nodA in Rhizobium meliloti

Egelhoff, T.T.; Long, S.R.

Journal of Bacteriology 164(2): 591-599


ISSN/ISBN: 0021-9193
PMID: 2997121
Accession: 041273721

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A set of conserved, or common, bacterial nodulation (nod) loci is required for host plant infection by Rhizobium meliloti and other Rhizobium species. Four such genes, nodDABC, have been indicated in R. meliloti 1021 by genetic analysis and DNA sequencing. An essential step toward understanding the function of these genes is to characterize their protein products. We used in vitro and maxicell Escherichia coli expression systems, together with gel electrophoresis and autoradiography, to detect proteins encoded by nodDABC. We facilitated expression of genes on these DNA fragments by inserting them downstream of the Salmonella typhimurium trp promoter, both in colE1 and incP plasmid-based vectors. Use of the incP trp promoter plasmid allowed overexpression of a nodABC gene fragment in R. meliloti. We found that nodA encodes a protein of 21 kilodaltons (kDa), and nodB encodes one of 28 kDa; the nodC product appears as two polypeptide bands at 44 and 45 kDa. Expression of the divergently read nodD yields a single polypeptide of 33 kDa. Whether these represent true Rhizobium gene products must be demonstrated by correlating these proteins with genetically defined Rhizobium loci. We purified the 21-kDa putative nodA protein product by gel electrophoresis, selective precipitation, and ion-exchange chromatography and generated antiserum to the purified gene product. This permitted the immunological demonstration that the 21-kDa protein is present in wild-type cells and in nodB- or nodC-defective strains, but is absent from nodA::Tn5 mutants, which confirms that the product expressed in E. coli is identical to that produced by R. meliloti nodA. Using antisera detection, we found that the level of nodA protein is increased by exposure of R. meliloti cells to plant exudate, indicating regulation of the bacterial nod genes by the plant host.