The nitrate-reduction gene cluster components exert lineage-dependent contributions to optimization of Sinorhizobium symbiosis with soybeans

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Receiving nodulation and nitrogen fixation genes does not guarantee rhizobia an effective symbiosis with legumes. Here, variations in gene content were determined for three Sinorhizobium species showing contrasting symbiotic efficiency on soybeans. A nitrate-reduction gene cluster absent in S. sojae was found to be essential for symbiotic adaptations of S. fredii and S. sp. III. In S. fredii, the deletion mutation of the nap (nitrate reductase), instead of nir (nitrite reductase) and nor (nitric oxide reductase), led to defects in nitrogen-fixation (Fix–). By contrast, none of these core nitrate-reduction genes were required for the symbiosis of S. sp. III. However, within the same gene cluster, the deletion of hemN1 (encoding oxygen-independent coproporphyrinogen III oxidase) in both S. fredii and S. sp. III led to the formation of nitrogen-fixing (Fix+) but ineffective (Eff–) nodules. These Fix+/Eff– nodules were characterized by significantly lower enzyme activity of glutamine synthetase indicating rhizobial modulation of nitrogen-assimilation by plants. A distant homologue of HemN1 from S. sojae can complement this defect in S. fredii and S. sp. III, but exhibited a more pleotropic role in symbiosis establishment. These findings highlighted the lineage-dependent optimization of symbiotic functions in different rhizobial species associated with the same host.

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