Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. trifolii NodD2 Enhances Competitive Nodule Colonization in the Clover-Rhizobium Symbiosis

Ferguson, S.; Major, A.S.; Sullivan, J.T.; Bourke, S.D.; Kelly, S.J.; Perry, B.J.; Ronson, C.W.

Applied and Environmental Microbiology 86(18)


ISSN/ISBN: 1098-5336
PMID: 32651206
DOI: 10.1128/aem.01268-20
Accession: 071047128

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Establishment of the symbiotic relationship that develops between rhizobia and their legume hosts is contingent upon an interkingdom signal exchange. In response to host legume flavonoids, NodD proteins from compatible rhizobia activate expression of nodulation genes that produce lipochitin oligosaccharide signaling molecules known as Nod factors. Root nodule formation commences upon legume recognition of compatible Nod factor. Rhizobium leguminosarum was previously considered to contain one copy of nodD; here, we show that some strains of the Trifolium (clover) microsymbiont R. leguminosarum by. trifolii contain a second copy designated nodD2. nodD2 genes were present in 8 out of 13 strains of R. leguminosarum by. trifolii, but were absent from the genomes of 16 R. leguminosarum by. viciae strains. Analysis of single and double nodD1 and nodD2 mutants in R. leguminosarum by. trifolii strain TA1 revealed that NodD2 was functional and enhanced nodule colonization competitiveness. However, NodD1 showed significantly greater capacity to induce nod gene expression and infection thread formation. Clover species are either annual or perennial and this phenological distinction is rarely crossed by individual R. leguminosarum by. trifolii microsymbionts for effective symbiosis. Of 13 strains with genome sequences available, 7 of the 8 effective microsymbionts of perennial hosts contained nodD2, whereas the 3 microsymbionts of annual hosts did not. We hypothesize that NodD2 inducer recognition differs from NodD1, and NodD2 functions to enhance competition and effective symbiosis, which may discriminate in favor of perennial hosts. IMPORTANCE Establishment of the rhizobium-legume symbiosis requires a highly specific and complex signal exchange between both participants. Rhizobia perceive legume flavonoid compounds through LysR-type NodD regulators. Often, rhizobia encode multiple copies of nodD, which is one determinant of host specificity. In some species of rhizobia, the presence of multiple copies of NodD extends their symbiotic host-range. Here, we identified and characterized a second copy of nodD present in some strains of the clover microsymbiont Rhizobium leguminosarum by. trifolii. The second nodD gene contributed to the competitive ability of the strain on white clover, an important forage legume. A screen for strains containing nodD2 could be utilized as one criterion to select strains with enhanced competitive ability for use as inoculants for pasture production.