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1.  Local and Systemic Regulation of Plant Root System Architecture and Symbiotic Nodulation by a Receptor-Like Kinase 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(12):e1004891.
In plants, root system architecture is determined by the activity of root apical meristems, which control the root growth rate, and by the formation of lateral roots. In legumes, an additional root lateral organ can develop: the symbiotic nitrogen-fixing nodule. We identified in Medicago truncatula ten allelic mutants showing a compact root architecture phenotype (cra2) independent of any major shoot phenotype, and that consisted of shorter roots, an increased number of lateral roots, and a reduced number of nodules. The CRA2 gene encodes a Leucine-Rich Repeat Receptor-Like Kinase (LRR-RLK) that primarily negatively regulates lateral root formation and positively regulates symbiotic nodulation. Grafting experiments revealed that CRA2 acts through different pathways to regulate these lateral organs originating from the roots, locally controlling the lateral root development and nodule formation systemically from the shoots. The CRA2 LRR-RLK therefore integrates short- and long-distance regulations to control root system architecture under non-symbiotic and symbiotic conditions.
Author Summary
Despite the essential functions of roots in plant access to water and nutrients, root system architecture has not been directly considered for crop breeding improvement, but it is now considered key for a “second green revolution.” In this study, we aimed to decipher integrated molecular mechanisms coordinating lateral organ development in legume roots: lateral roots and nitrogen-fixing symbiotic nodules. The compact root architecture 2 (cra2) mutant form an increased number of lateral roots and a reduced number of symbiotic nitrogen-fixing nodules. This mutant is affected in a CLAVATA1-like Leucine-Rich Repeat Receptor-Like Kinase (LRR-RLK) that has not previously been linked to root development. Grafting experiments showed that CRA2 negatively controls lateral root formation and positively controls nodule development through local and systemic pathways, respectively. Overall, our results can be integrated in the framework of regulatory pathways controlling the symbiotic nodule number, the so-called “Autoregulation of Nodulation” (AON), involving another LRR-RLK that also acts systemically from the shoots, SUNN (Super Numeric Nodules). A coordinated function of the CRA2 and SUNN LRR-RLKs may thereby permit the dynamic fine tuning of the nodule number depending on the environmental conditions.
PMCID: PMC4270686  PMID: 25521478
2.  Computational Complementation: A Modelling Approach to Study Signalling Mechanisms during Legume Autoregulation of Nodulation 
PLoS Computational Biology  2010;6(2):e1000685.
Autoregulation of nodulation (AON) is a long-distance signalling regulatory system maintaining the balance of symbiotic nodulation in legume plants. However, the intricacy of internal signalling and absence of flux and biochemical data, are a bottleneck for investigation of AON. To address this, a new computational modelling approach called “Computational Complementation” has been developed. The main idea is to use functional-structural modelling to complement the deficiency of an empirical model of a loss-of-function (non-AON) mutant with hypothetical AON mechanisms. If computational complementation demonstrates a phenotype similar to the wild-type plant, the signalling hypothesis would be suggested as “reasonable”. Our initial case for application of this approach was to test whether or not wild-type soybean cotyledons provide the shoot-derived inhibitor (SDI) to regulate nodule progression. We predicted by computational complementation that the cotyledon is part of the shoot in terms of AON and that it produces the SDI signal, a result that was confirmed by reciprocal epicotyl-and-hypocotyl grafting in a real-plant experiment. This application demonstrates the feasibility of computational complementation and shows its usefulness for applications where real-plant experimentation is either difficult or impossible.
Author Summary
Endogenous signals, such as phytohormones, play a vital role in plant development and function, controlling processes such as flowering, branching, disease response, and nodulation. However, the signalling mechanisms are so subtle and so complex that details about them remain largely unknown. In this study, we develop a “Computational Complementation” approach for the investigation of long-distance signalling networks during legume autoregulation of nodulation (AON). The key idea is to use computational modelling to complement the deficiency of an empirical model of an AON deficient mutant with hypothesised AON components. If the complementation restores a wild-type nodulation phenotype, the modelled hypotheses would be supported as reasonable. To evaluate the feasibility of this approach, we tested whether wild-type soybean cotyledons participate in AON, commonly controlled by “real” leaves. The test gave an affirmative result (i.e., cotyledons do have AON activity), which was subsequently confirmed by a graft experiment on real plants. Future applications of this approach may be to test candidate AON signals such as auxins, flavones, and CLE peptides, and other plant signalling networks.
PMCID: PMC2829028  PMID: 20195551
3.  NODULE INCEPTION Directly Targets NF-Y Subunit Genes to Regulate Essential Processes of Root Nodule Development in Lotus japonicus 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(3):e1003352.
The interactions of legumes with symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria cause the formation of specialized lateral root organs called root nodules. It has been postulated that this root nodule symbiosis system has recruited factors that act in early signaling pathways (common SYM genes) partly from the ancestral mycorrhizal symbiosis. However, the origins of factors needed for root nodule organogenesis are largely unknown. NODULE INCEPTION (NIN) is a nodulation-specific gene that encodes a putative transcription factor and acts downstream of the common SYM genes. Here, we identified two Nuclear Factor-Y (NF-Y) subunit genes, LjNF-YA1 and LjNF-YB1, as transcriptional targets of NIN in Lotus japonicus. These genes are expressed in root nodule primordia and their translational products interact in plant cells, indicating that they form an NF-Y complex in root nodule primordia. The knockdown of LjNF-YA1 inhibited root nodule organogenesis, as did the loss of function of NIN. Furthermore, we found that NIN overexpression induced root nodule primordium-like structures that originated from cortical cells in the absence of bacterial symbionts. Thus, NIN is a crucial factor responsible for initiating nodulation-specific symbiotic processes. In addition, ectopic expression of either NIN or the NF-Y subunit genes caused abnormal cell division during lateral root development. This indicated that the Lotus NF-Y subunits can function to stimulate cell division. Thus, transcriptional regulation by NIN, including the activation of the NF-Y subunit genes, induces cortical cell division, which is an initial step in root nodule organogenesis. Unlike the legume-specific NIN protein, NF-Y is a major CCAAT box binding protein complex that is widespread among eukaryotes. We propose that the evolution of root nodules in legume plants was associated with changes in the function of NIN. NIN has acquired functions that allow it to divert pathways involved in the regulation of cell division to root nodule organogenesis.
Author Summary
Legumes produce nodules in roots as the endosymbiotic organs for nitrogen-fixing bacteria, collectively called rhizobia. The symbiotic relationship enables legumes to survive on soil with poor nitrogen sources. The rhizobial infection triggers cell division in the cortex to generate root nodule primordia. The root nodule symbiosis has been thought to be recruited factors for the early signaling pathway from the ancestral mycorrhizal symbiosis, which usually does not accompany the root nodule formation. However, how the root nodule symbiosis-specific pathway inputs nodulation signals to molecular networks, by which cortical cell division is initiated, has not yet been elucidated. We found that NIN, a nodulation specific factor, induced cortical cell division without the rhizobial infection. NIN acted as a transcriptional activator and targeted two genes that encode different subunits of a NF-Y CCAAT box binding protein complex, LjNF-YA1 and LjNF-YB1. Inhibition of the LjNF-YA1 function prevented root nodule formation. Ectopic expression of the NF-Y subunit genes enhanced cell division in lateral root primordia that is not related to root nodule organogenesis. The NF-Y genes are thought to regulate cell division downstream of NIN. NF-Y is a general factor widespread in eukaryotes. We propose that NIN is a mediator between nodulation-specific signals and general regulatory mechanisms associated with cell proliferation.
PMCID: PMC3605141  PMID: 23555278
4.  A Sinorhizobium meliloti-specific N-acyl homoserine lactone quorum-sensing signal increases nodule numbers in Medicago truncatula independent of autoregulation 
N-acyl homoserine lactones (AHLs) act as quorum sensing signals that regulate cell-density dependent behaviors in many gram-negative bacteria, in particular those important for plant-microbe interactions. AHLs can also be recognized by plants, and this may influence their interactions with bacteria. Here we tested whether the exposure to AHLs affects the nodule-forming symbiosis between legume hosts and rhizobia. We treated roots of the model legume, Medicago truncatula, with a range of AHLs either from its specific symbiont, Sinorhizobium meliloti, or from the potential pathogens, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Agrobacterium vitis. We found increased numbers of nodules formed on root systems treated with the S. meliloti-specific AHL, 3-oxo-C14-homoserine lactone, at a concentration of 1 μM, while the other AHLs did not result in significant changes to nodule numbers. We did not find any evidence for altered nodule invasion by the rhizobia. Quantification of flavonoids that could act as nod gene inducers in S. meliloti did not show any correlation with increased nodule numbers. The effects of AHLs were specific for an increase in nodule numbers, but not lateral root numbers or root length. Increased nodule numbers following 3-oxo-C14-homoserine lactone treatment were under control of autoregulation of nodulation and were still observed in the autoregulation mutant, sunn4 (super numeric nodules4). However, increases in nodule numbers by 3-oxo-C14-homoserine lactone were not found in the ethylene-insensitive sickle mutant. A comparison between M. truncatula with M. sativa (alfalfa) and Trifolium repens (white clover) showed that the observed effects of AHLs on nodule numbers were specific to M. truncatula, despite M. sativa nodulating with the same symbiont. We conclude that plant perception of the S. meliloti-specific 3-oxo-C14-homoserine lactone influences nodule numbers in M. truncatula via an ethylene-dependent, but autoregulation-independent mechanism.
PMCID: PMC4196514  PMID: 25352858
acyl homoserine lactones; autoregulation of nodulation; ethylene; flavonoids; nodulation; quorum sensing
5.  Simple and efficient methods to generate split roots and grafted plants useful for long-distance signaling studies in Medicago truncatula and other small plants 
Plant Methods  2012;8:38.
Long distance signaling is a common phenomenon in animal and plant development. In plants, lateral organs such as nodules and lateral roots are developmentally regulated by root-to-shoot and shoot-to-root long distance signaling. Grafting and split root experiments have been used in the past to study the systemic long distance effect of endogenous and environmental factors, however the potential of these techniques has not been fully realized because data replicates are often limited due to cumbersome and difficult approaches and many plant species with soft tissue are difficult to work with. Hence, developing simple and efficient methods for grafting and split root inoculation in these plants is of great importance.
We report a split root inoculation system for the small legume M. truncatula as well as robust and reliable techniques of inverted-Y grafting and reciprocal grafting. Although the split root technique has been historically used for a variety of experimental purposes, we made it simple, efficient and reproducible for M. truncatula. Using our split root experiments, we showed the systemic long distance suppression of nodulation on a second wild type root inoculated after a delay, as well as the lack of this suppression in mutants defective in autoregulation. We demonstrated inverted-Y grafting as a method to generate plants having two different root genotypes. We confirmed that our grafting method does not affect the normal growth and development of the inserted root; the composite plants maintained normal root morphology and anatomy. Shoot-to-root reciprocal grafts were efficiently made with a modification of this technique and, like standard grafts, demonstrate that the regulatory signal defective in rdn1 mutants acts in the root.
Our split root inoculation protocol shows marked improvement over existing methods in the number and quality of the roots produced. The dual functions of the inverted-Y grafting approach are demonstrated: it is a useful system to produce a plant having roots of two different genotypes and is also more efficient than published shoot-to-root reciprocal grafting techniques. Both techniques together allow dissection of long distance plant developmental regulation with very simple, efficient and reproducible approaches.
PMCID: PMC3493353  PMID: 22971438
Split root; Inverted-Y; Grafting; Nodulation; Long-distance signaling; Systemic signaling; Medicago truncatula; RDN1
6.  Transcription Reprogramming during Root Nodule Development in Medicago truncatula 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(1):e16463.
Many genes which are associated with root nodule development and activity in the model legume Medicago truncatula have been described. However information on precise stages of activation of these genes and their corresponding transcriptional regulators is often lacking. Whether these regulators are shared with other plant developmental programs also remains an open question. Here detailed microarray analyses have been used to study the transcriptome of root nodules induced by either wild type or mutant strains of Sinorhizobium meliloti. In this way we have defined eight major activation patterns in nodules and identified associated potential regulatory genes. We have shown that transcription reprogramming during consecutive stages of nodule differentiation occurs in four major phases, respectively associated with (i) early signalling events and/or bacterial infection; plant cell differentiation that is either (ii) independent or (iii) dependent on bacteroid differentiation; (iv) nitrogen fixation. Differential expression of several genes involved in cytokinin biosynthesis was observed in early symbiotic nodule zones, suggesting that cytokinin levels are actively controlled in this region. Taking advantage of databases recently developed for M. truncatula, we identified a small subset of gene expression regulators that were exclusively or predominantly expressed in nodules, whereas most other regulators were also activated under other conditions, and notably in response to abiotic or biotic stresses. We found evidence suggesting the activation of the jasmonate pathway in both wild type and mutant nodules, thus raising questions about the role of jasmonate during nodule development. Finally, quantitative RT-PCR was used to analyse the expression of a series of nodule regulator and marker genes at early symbiotic stages in roots and allowed us to distinguish several early stages of gene expression activation or repression.
PMCID: PMC3029352  PMID: 21304580
7.  Molecular mechanisms controlling legume autoregulation of nodulation 
Annals of Botany  2011;108(5):789-795.
High input costs and environmental pressures to reduce nitrogen use in agriculture have increased the competitive advantage of legume crops. The symbiotic relationship that legumes form with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria in root nodules is central to this advantage.
Understanding how legume plants maintain control of nodulation to balance the nitrogen gains with their energy needs and developmental costs will assist in increasing their productivity and relative advantage. For this reason, the regulation of nodulation has been extensively studied since the first mutants exhibiting increased nodulation were isolated almost three decades ago.
Nodulation is regulated primarily via a systemic mechanism known as the autoregulation of nodulation (AON), which is controlled by a CLAVATA1-like receptor kinase. Multiple components sharing homology with the CLAVATA signalling pathway that maintains control of the shoot apical meristem in arabidopsis have now been identified in AON. This includes the recent identification of several CLE peptides capable of activating nodule inhibition responses, a low molecular weight shoot signal and a role for CLAVATA2 in AON. Efforts are now being focused on directly identifying the interactions of these components and to identify the form that long-distance transport molecules take.
PMCID: PMC3177682  PMID: 21856632
Legume nodulation; AON; signalling; hormone; plant peptide; receptor kinase; symbiosis
8.  Root nodulation of Sesbania rostrata. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1994;176(4):1060-1068.
The tropical legume Sesbania rostrata can be nodulated by Azorhizobium caulinodans on both its stem and its root system. Here we investigate in detail the process of root nodulation and show that nodules develop exclusively at the base of secondary roots. Intercellular infection leads to the formation of infection pockets, which then give rise to infection threads. Concomitantly with infection, cortical cells of the secondary roots dedifferentiate, forming a meristem which has an "open-basket" configuration and which surrounds the initial infection site. Bacteria are released from the tips of infection threads into plant cells via "infection droplets," each containing several bacteria. Initially, nodule differentiation is comparable to that of indeterminate nodules, with the youngest meristematic cells being located at the periphery and the nitrogen-fixing cells being located at the nodule center. Because of the peculiar form of the meristem, Sesbania root nodules develop uniformly around a central axis. Nitrogen fixation is detected as early as 3 days following inoculation, while the nodule meristem is still active. Two weeks after inoculation, meristematic activity ceases, and nodules then show the typical histology of determinate nodules. Thus, root nodule organogenesis in S. rostrata appears to be intermediate between indeterminate and determinate types.
PMCID: PMC205157  PMID: 8106317
9.  Functional Adaptation of a Plant Receptor- Kinase Paved the Way for the Evolution of Intracellular Root Symbioses with Bacteria 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(3):e68.
Nitrogen-fixing root nodule symbioses (RNS) occur in two major forms—Actinorhiza and legume-rhizobium symbiosis—which differ in bacterial partner, intracellular infection pattern, and morphogenesis. The phylogenetic restriction of nodulation to eurosid angiosperms indicates a common and recent evolutionary invention, but the molecular steps involved are still obscure. In legumes, at least seven genes—including the symbiosis receptor-kinase gene SYMRK—are essential for the interaction with rhizobia bacteria and for the Arbuscular Mycorrhiza (AM) symbiosis with phosphate-acquiring fungi, which is widespread in occurrence and believed to date back to the earliest land plants. We show that SYMRK is also required for Actinorhiza symbiosis of the cucurbit Datisca glomerata with actinobacteria of the genus Frankia, revealing a common genetic basis for both forms of RNS. We found that SYMRK exists in at least three different structural versions, of which the shorter forms from rice and tomato are sufficient for AM, but not for functional endosymbiosis with bacteria in the legume Lotus japonicus. Our data support the idea that SYMRK sequence evolution was involved in the recruitment of a pre-existing signalling network from AM, paving the way for the evolution of intracellular root symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
Author Summary
As an adaptation to nutrient limitations in terrestrial ecosystems, most plants form Arbuscular Mycorrhiza (AM), which is a symbiotic relationship between phosphate-delivering fungi and plant roots that dates back to the earliest land plants. More recently, a small group including the legumes and close relatives has evolved the ability to accommodate nitrogen-fixing bacteria intracellularly. The resulting symbiosis is manifested by the formation of specialized root organs, the nodules, and comes in two forms: the interaction of legumes with rhizobia, and the more widespread Actinorhiza symbiosis of mostly woody plants with Frankia bacteria. The symbiosis receptor kinase SYMRK acts in a signalling pathway that legume plants require to trigger the development of nodules and the uptake of fungi or bacteria into their root cells. Here we show that the induction of Actinorhiza nodulation also relies on SYMRK, consistent with the idea that both types of nodulation evolved by recruiting common signalling genes from the pre-existing AM program. We observed that SYMRK from different land plant lineages differs significantly in exon composition, with a “full-length” version in the nodulating clade and shorter SYMRK genes in plants outside this lineage. Only the most complete SYMRK version was fully functional in nodulation, suggesting this gene played a central role in the recruitment event associated with the evolution of intracellular root symbioses with bacteria.
Root nodule symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria provide many plants with a source of nitrogen. This study uncovers evidence that changes in the gene SYMRK were involved in the evolution of this important biological innovation.
PMCID: PMC2270324  PMID: 18318603
10.  Ethylene insensitivity conferred by a mutated Arabidopsis ethylene receptor gene alters nodulation in transgenic Lotus japonicus 
Annals of Botany  2009;104(2):277-285.
Background and Aims
Transgenics are used to demonstrate a causal relationship between ethylene insensitivity of a seedling legume plant, the level of ethylene receptor gene expression, lateral root growth and Mesorhizobium loti-induced nodule initiation.
Lotus japonicus plants expressing the dominant etr1-1 allele of the Arabidopsis thaliana gene encoding a well-characterized mutated ethylene receptor were created by stable Agrobacterium tumefaciens transformation. Single insertion, homozygous lines were characterized for symbiotic properties.
Key Results
Transgenic plants were ethylene insensitive as judged by the lack of the ‘Triple Response’, and their continued ability to grow and nodulate in the presence of inhibitory concentrations of ACC (1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid; an ethylene precursor). Transgenic plants with high insensitivity to ACC had significantly fewer lateral roots and exhibited increased nodulation while showing no altered nitrate sensitivity or lack of systemic autoregulation. Whereas ACC-insensitive shoot growth and nodulation were observed in transformants, root growth was inhibited similarly to the wild type. Increased nodulation was caused by increased infection and a seven-fold increase in nodules developing between xylem poles. Bacteroid numbers per symbiosome increased about 1·7-fold in ethylene-insensitive plants.
The study further demonstrates multiple roles for ethylene in nodule initiation by influencing root cell infections and radial positioning, independent of autoregulation and nitrate inhibition of nodulation.
PMCID: PMC2710892  PMID: 19505874
Ethylene insensitivity; Lotus japonicus; symbiosis; phytohormone; nodulation; signal transduction
11.  Functional Analysis of NopM, a Novel E3 Ubiquitin Ligase (NEL) Domain Effector of Rhizobium sp. Strain NGR234 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(5):e1002707.
Type 3 effector proteins secreted via the bacterial type 3 secretion system (T3SS) are not only virulence factors of pathogenic bacteria, but also influence symbiotic interactions between nitrogen-fixing nodule bacteria (rhizobia) and leguminous host plants. In this study, we characterized NopM (nodulation outer protein M) of Rhizobium sp. strain NGR234, which shows sequence similarities with novel E3 ubiquitin ligase (NEL) domain effectors from the human pathogens Shigella flexneri and Salomonella enterica. NopM expressed in Escherichia coli, but not the non-functional mutant protein NopM-C338A, showed E3 ubiquitin ligase activity in vitro. In vivo, NopM, but not inactive NopM-C338A, promoted nodulation of the host plant Lablab purpureus by NGR234. When NopM was expressed in yeast, it inhibited mating pheromone signaling, a mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase pathway. When expressed in the plant Nicotiana benthamiana, NopM inhibited one part of the plant's defense response, as shown by a reduced production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in response to the flagellin peptide flg22, whereas it stimulated another part, namely the induction of defense genes. In summary, our data indicate the potential for NopM as a functional NEL domain E3 ubiquitin ligase. Our findings that NopM dampened the flg22-induced ROS burst in N. benthamiana but promoted defense gene induction are consistent with the concept that pattern-triggered immunity is split in two separate signaling branches, one leading to ROS production and the other to defense gene induction.
Author Summary
Many Gram-negative bacterial pathogens possess type 3 secretion systems, which deliver effector proteins into eukaryotic host cells through needle-like structures. Effectors manipulate the host cell and many of them suppress host defense responses. Interestingly, certain symbiotic strains of rhizobia also possess such secretion systems. Rhizobia infect legume roots and induce root nodules, where the bacteria convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. Here, we characterize the effector NopM of Rhizobium sp. strain NGR234. We demonstrate that NopM possesses E3 ubiquitin ligase activity, indicating that NopM can “tag" proteins with ubiquitin, and thus target them for proteasome-dependent degradation. Using a mutant approach, we demonstrate that enzymatically active NopM promotes establishment of symbiosis with Lablab purpureus, the host plant from which NGR234 was originally isolated. We further examine effects of NopM when directly expressed in eukaryotic cells and show that NopM interferes with specific signaling pathways. NopM expressed in the model plant Nicotiana benthamiana dampened generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are formed in response to the bacterial flagellin peptide flg22. We suggest that NopM promotes nodule initiation by reducing the levels of harmful ROS during the infection process.
PMCID: PMC3355095  PMID: 22615567
12.  Structure–function analysis of the GmRIC1 signal peptide and CLE domain required for nodulation control in soybean 
Journal of Experimental Botany  2013;64(6):1575-1585.
Legumes control the nitrogen-fixing root nodule symbiosis in response to external and internal stimuli, such as nitrate, and via systemic autoregulation of nodulation (AON). Overexpression of the CLV3/ESR-related (CLE) pre-propeptide-encoding genes GmNIC1 (nitrate-induced and acting locally) and GmRIC1 (Bradyrhizobium-induced and acting systemically) suppresses soybean nodulation dependent on the activity of the nodulation autoregulation receptor kinase (GmNARK). This nodule inhibition response was used to assess the relative importance of key structural components within and around the CLE domain sequences of these genes. Using a site-directed mutagenesis approach, mutants were produced at each amino acid within the CLE domain (RLAPEGPDPHHN) of GmRIC1. This approach identified the Arg1, Ala3, Pro4, Gly6, Pro7, Asp8, His11, and Asn12 residues as critical to GmRIC1 nodulation suppression activity (NSA). In contrast, none of the mutations in conserved residues outside of the CLE domain showed compromised NSA. Chimeric genes derived from combinations of GmRIC1 and GmNIC1 domains were used to determine the role of each pre-propeptide domain in NSA differences that exist between the two peptides. It was found that the transit peptide and CLE peptide regions of GmRIC1 significantly enhanced activity of GmNIC1. In contrast, the comparable GmNIC1 domains reduced the NSA of GmRIC1. Identification of these critical residues and domains provides a better understanding of how these hormone-like peptides function in plant development and regulation.
PMCID: PMC3617822  PMID: 23386683
Autoregulation of nodulation; CLE peptides; legumes; nodulation; soybean; symbiosis.
13.  Morphological and genetic changes induced by excess Zn in roots of Medicago truncatula A17 and a Zn accumulating mutant 
BMC Research Notes  2012;5:657.
Nutrient fluxes associated with legume-rhizobia symbioses are poorly understood and little is known regarding the influence of abiotic stresses on development and maintenance of N-fixing nodules and root system architecture (RSA). We examined effects of Zn on nodule development and structure, root architecture, and expression of nodulation-related miRNAs in Medicago truncatula and the mutant, raz (requires additional Zn).
Excess Zn increased root and shoot associated Zn in both genotypes, however, raz plants had lower root associated Zn than WT plants. Roots of raz plants exposed to excess Zn had less volume, surface area, and total length compared to WT plants. Raz plants had lower lateral root number than WT plants. Excess Zn was found to increase root diameter in both genotypes. The Mn Translocation Factor (TfMn) increased in response to Zn in both genotypes; this was more pronounced in raz plants. TfZn was higher in raz plants and reduced in both genotypes in response to Zn. Nodulation was not influenced by Zn treatment or plant genotype. MicroRNA166 was upregulated under excess Zn in WT plants.
Neither the raz mutation nor Zn treatment affected nodulation, however, raz plants had altered RSA compared with WT and responded differently to Zn, implying the mutation potentially modulates RSA responses to Zn but doesn’t play a direct role in nodulation. MicroRNA166 was significantly induced in WT plants by excess Zn, warranting further investigation into the potential role it plays in controlling RSA.
PMCID: PMC3599297  PMID: 23191938
Medicago truncatula; Abiotic stress; MicroRNA (miRNA); Zn stress; Translocation factor; QRT-PCR; Legume; Root architecture
14.  Spontaneous symbiotic reprogramming of plant roots triggered by receptor-like kinases 
eLife  2014;3:e03891.
Symbiosis Receptor-like Kinase (SYMRK) is indispensable for the development of phosphate-acquiring arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM) as well as nitrogen-fixing root nodule symbiosis, but the mechanisms that discriminate between the two distinct symbiotic developmental fates have been enigmatic. In this study, we show that upon ectopic expression, the receptor-like kinase genes Nod Factor Receptor 1 (NFR1), NFR5, and SYMRK initiate spontaneous nodule organogenesis and nodulation-related gene expression in the absence of rhizobia. Furthermore, overexpressed NFR1 or NFR5 associated with endogenous SYMRK in roots of the legume Lotus japonicus. Epistasis tests revealed that the dominant active SYMRK allele initiates signalling independently of either the NFR1 or NFR5 gene and upstream of a set of genes required for the generation or decoding of calcium-spiking in both symbioses. Only SYMRK but not NFR overexpression triggered the expression of AM-related genes, indicating that the receptors play a key role in the decision between AM- or root nodule symbiosis-development.
eLife digest
Like all plants, crop plants need nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphate to grow. Often these essential elements are in short supply, and so millions of tons of fertiliser are applied to agricultural land each year to maintain crop yields. Another way for plants to gain access to scarce nutrients is to form symbiotic relationships with microorganisms that live in the soil. Plants pass on carbon-containing compounds—such as sugars—to the microbes and, in return, certain fungi provide minerals—such as phosphates—to the plants. Some plants called legumes (such as peas, beans, and clovers) can also form relationships with bacteria that convert nitrogen from the air into ammonia, which the plants then use to make molecules such as DNA and proteins.
To establish these symbiotic relationships with plants, nitrogen-fixing bacteria release chemical signals that are recognized via receptor proteins, called NFR1 and NFR5, found on the surface of the plant root cells. These signals trigger a cascade of events that ultimately lead to the plant forming an organ called ‘root nodule’ to house and nourish the nitrogen-fixing bacteria. A similar signalling mechanism is thought to take place during the establishment of symbiotic relationships between plants and certain soil fungi.
A plant protein called Symbiosis Receptor-like Kinase (or SYMRK for short) that is also located on the root cell surface is required for both bacteria–plant and fungi–plant associations to occur. However, the exact role of this protein in these processes was unclear. Ried et al. have now investigated this by taking advantage of a property of cell surface receptor proteins: if some of these proteins are made in excessive amounts they activate their signalling cascades even when the initial signal is not present.
Ried et al. engineered plants called Lotus japonicus to produce high levels of SYMRK, NFR1, or NFR5. Each of these changes was sufficient to trigger the plants to develop root nodules in the absence of microbes. Genes associated with the activation of the signalling cascade involved the formation of root nodules were also switched on when each of the three proteins was produced in large amounts. In contrast, only an excess of SYMRK could activate genes related to fungi–plant associations. Ried et al. also found that, while SYMRK can function in the absence of the NFRs, NFR1 and NFR5 need each other to function. These data suggest that the receptor proteins play a key role in the decision between the establishment of an association with a bacterium or a fungus.
As an excess of symbiotic receptors caused plants to form symbiotic structures, Ried et al. propose that this strategy could be used to persuade plants that usually do not form symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria to do so. If this is possible, it might lead us to engineer crop plants to form symbiotic interactions with nitrogen-fixing bacteria; this would help increase crop yields and enable crops to be grown in nitrogen-poor environments without the addition of extra fertiliser.
PMCID: PMC4243133  PMID: 25422918
Lotus japonicus; plant root symbiosis; receptor-like kinases; signal transduction; plant development; gene regulation; other
15.  Differentiation of Symbiotic Cells and Endosymbionts in Medicago truncatula Nodulation Are Coupled to Two Transcriptome-Switches 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9519.
The legume plant Medicago truncatula establishes a symbiosis with the nitrogen-fixing bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti which takes place in root nodules. The formation of nodules employs a complex developmental program involving organogenesis, specific cellular differentiation of the host cells and the endosymbiotic bacteria, called bacteroids, as well as the specific activation of a large number of plant genes. By using a collection of plant and bacterial mutants inducing non-functional, Fix− nodules, we studied the differentiation processes of the symbiotic partners together with the nodule transcriptome, with the aim of unravelling links between cell differentiation and transcriptome activation. Two waves of transcriptional reprogramming involving the repression and the massive induction of hundreds of genes were observed during wild-type nodule formation. The dominant features of this “nodule-specific transcriptome” were the repression of plant defense-related genes, the transient activation of cell cycle and protein synthesis genes at the early stage of nodule development and the activation of the secretory pathway along with a large number of transmembrane and secretory proteins or peptides throughout organogenesis. The fifteen plant and bacterial mutants that were analyzed fell into four major categories. Members of the first category of mutants formed non-functional nodules although they had differentiated nodule cells and bacteroids. This group passed the two transcriptome switch-points similarly to the wild type. The second category, which formed nodules in which the plant cells were differentiated and infected but the bacteroids did not differentiate, passed the first transcriptome switch but not the second one. Nodules in the third category contained infection threads but were devoid of differentiated symbiotic cells and displayed a root-like transcriptome. Nodules in the fourth category were free of bacteria, devoid of differentiated symbiotic cells and also displayed a root-like transcriptome. A correlation thus exists between the differentiation of symbiotic nodule cells and the first wave of nodule specific gene activation and between differentiation of rhizobia to bacteroids and the second transcriptome wave in nodules. The differentiation of symbiotic cells and of bacteroids may therefore constitute signals for the execution of these transcriptome-switches.
PMCID: PMC2832008  PMID: 20209049
16.  Genome organization and characteristics of soybean microRNAs 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:169.
microRNAs (miRNAs) are key regulators of gene expression and play important roles in many aspects of plant biology. The role(s) of miRNAs in nitrogen-fixing root nodules of leguminous plants such as soybean is not well understood. We examined a library of small RNAs from Bradyrhizobium japonicum-inoculated soybean roots and identified novel miRNAs. In order to enhance our understanding of miRNA evolution, diversification and function, we classified all known soybean miRNAs based on their phylogenetic conservation (conserved, legume- and soybean-specific miRNAs) and examined their genome organization, family characteristics and target diversity. We predicted targets of these miRNAs and experimentally validated several of them. We also examined organ-specific expression of selected miRNAs and their targets.
We identified 120 previously unknown miRNA genes from soybean including 5 novel miRNA families. In the soybean genome, genes encoding miRNAs are primarily intergenic and a small percentage were intragenic or less than 1000 bp from a protein-coding gene, suggesting potential co-regulation between the miRNA and its parent gene. Difference in number and orientation of tandemly duplicated miRNA genes between orthologous genomic loci indicated continuous evolution and diversification. Conserved miRNA families are often larger in size and produce less diverse mature miRNAs than legume- and soybean-specific families. In addition, the majority of conserved and legume-specific miRNA families produce 21 nt long mature miRNAs with distinct nucleotide distribution and regulate a more conserved set of target mRNAs compared to soybean-specific families. A set of nodule-specific target mRNAs and their cognate regulatory miRNAs had inverse expression between root and nodule tissues suggesting that spatial restriction of target gene transcripts by miRNAs might govern nodule-specific gene expression in soybean.
Genome organization of soybean miRNAs suggests that they are actively evolving. Distinct family characteristics of soybean miRNAs suggest continuous diversification of function. Inverse organ-specific expression between selected miRNAs and their targets in the roots and nodules, suggested a potential role for these miRNAs in regulating nodule development.
PMCID: PMC3481472  PMID: 22559273
microRNA; Soybean; Genome organization; Evolution; Nodulation
17.  Auxin and nitric oxide control indeterminate nodule formation 
BMC Plant Biology  2007;7:21.
Rhizobia symbionts elicit root nodule formation in leguminous plants. Nodule development requires local accumulation of auxin. Both plants and rhizobia synthesise auxin. We have addressed the effects of bacterial auxin (IAA) on nodulation by using Sinorhizobium meliloti and Rhizobium leguminosarum bacteria genetically engineered for increased auxin synthesis.
IAA-overproducing S. meliloti increased nodulation in Medicago species, whilst the increased auxin synthesis of R. leguminosarum had no effect on nodulation in Phaseolus vulgaris, a legume bearing determinate nodules. Indeterminate legumes (Medicago species) bearing IAA-overproducing nodules showed an enhanced lateral root development, a process known to be regulated by both IAA and nitric oxide (NO). Higher NO levels were detected in indeterminate nodules of Medicago plants formed by the IAA-overproducing rhizobia. The specific NO scavenger cPTIO markedly reduced nodulation induced by wild type and IAA-overproducing strains.
The data hereby presented demonstrate that auxin synthesised by rhizobia and nitric oxide positively affect indeterminate nodule formation and, together with the observation of increased expression of an auxin efflux carrier in roots bearing nodules with higher IAA and NO content, support a model of nodule formation that involves auxin transport regulation and NO synthesis.
PMCID: PMC1878477  PMID: 17488509
18.  Identification of a dominant gene in Medicago truncatula that restricts nodulation by Sinorhizobium meliloti strain Rm41 
BMC Plant Biology  2014;14:167.
Leguminous plants are able to form a root nodule symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria called rhizobia. This symbiotic association shows a high level of specificity. Beyond the specificity for the legume family, individual legume species/genotypes can only interact with certain restricted group of bacterial species or strains. Specificity in this system is regulated by complex signal exchange between the two symbiotic partners and thus multiple genetic mechanisms could be involved in the recognition process. Knowledge of the molecular mechanisms controlling symbiotic specificity could enable genetic improvement of legume nitrogen fixation, and may also reveal the possible mechanisms that restrict root nodule symbiosis in non-legumes.
We screened a core collection of Medicago truncatula genotypes with several strains of Sinorhizobium meliloti and identified a naturally occurring dominant gene that restricts nodulation by S. meliloti Rm41. We named this gene as Mt-NS1 (for M.truncatulanodulation specificity 1). We have mapped the Mt-NS1 locus within a small genomic region on M. truncatula chromosome 8. The data reported here will facilitate positional cloning of the Mt-NS1 gene.
Evolution of symbiosis specificity involves both rhizobial and host genes. From the bacterial side, specificity determinants include Nod factors, surface polysaccharides, and secreted proteins. However, we know relatively less from the host side. We recently demonstrated that a component of this specificity in soybeans is defined by plant NBS-LRR resistance (R) genes that recognize effector proteins delivered by the type III secretion system (T3SS) of the rhizobial symbionts. However, the lack of a T3SS in many sequenced S. meliloti strains raises the question of how the specificity is regulated in the Medicago-Sinorhizobium system beyond Nod-factor perception. Thus, cloning and characterization of Mt-NS1 will add a new dimension to our knowledge about the genetic control of nodulation specificity in the legume-rhizobial symbiosis.
PMCID: PMC4070093  PMID: 24934080
Legume; Medicago truncatula; Nodulation specificity; Nitrogen fixation
19.  Autoregulatory response of Phaseolus vulgaris L. to symbiotic mutants of Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. phaseoli. 
In Rhizobium-legume symbiosis, the plant host controls and optimizes the nodulation process by autoregulation. Tn5 mutants of Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. phaseoli TAL 182 which are impaired at various stages of symbiotic development, were used to examine autoregulation in the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.). Class I mutants were nonnodulating, class II mutants induced small, distinct swellings on the roots, and a class III mutant formed pink, bacterium-containing, but ineffective nodules. A purine mutant (Ade-) was nonnodulating, while a pyrimidine mutant (Ura-) formed small swellings on the roots. Amino acid mutants (Leu-, Phe-, and Cys-) formed mostly empty white nodules. Each of the mutants was used as a primary inoculant on one side of a split-root system to assess its ability to suppress secondary nodulation by the wild type on the other side. All mutants with defects in nodulation ability, regardless of the particular stage of blockage, failed to induce a suppression response from the host. Only the nodulation-competent, bacterium-containing, but ineffective class III mutant induced a suppression response similar to that induced by the wild type. Suppression was correlated with the ability of the microsymbiont to proliferate inside the nodules but not with the ability to initiate nodule formation or the ability to fix nitrogen. Thus, the presence of bacteria inside the nodules may be required for the induction of nodulation suppression in the common bean.
PMCID: PMC183641  PMID: 1768143
20.  Modeling a Cortical Auxin Maximum for Nodulation: Different Signatures of Potential Strategies 
Lateral organ formation from plant roots typically requires the de novo creation of a meristem, initiated at the location of a localized auxin maximum. Legume roots can form both root nodules and lateral roots. From the basic principles of auxin transport and metabolism only a few mechanisms can be inferred for increasing the local auxin concentration: increased influx, decreased efflux, and (increased) local production. Using computer simulations we investigate the different spatio-temporal patterns resulting from each of these mechanisms in the context of a root model of a generalized legume. We apply all mechanisms to the same group of preselected cells, dubbed the controlled area. We find that each mechanism leaves its own characteristic signature. Local production by itself can not create a strong auxin maximum. An increase of influx, as is observed in lateral root formation, can result in an auxin maximum that is spatially more confined than the controlled area. A decrease of efflux on the other hand leads to a broad maximum, which is more similar to what is observed for nodule primordia. With our prime interest in nodulation, we further investigate the dynamics following a decrease of efflux. We find that with a homogeneous change in the whole cortex, the first auxin accumulation is observed in the inner cortex. The steady state lateral location of this efflux reduced auxin maximum can be shifted by slight changes in the ratio of central to peripheral efflux carriers. We discuss the implications of this finding in the context of determinate and indeterminate nodules, which originate from different cortical positions. The patterns we have found are robust under disruption of the (artificial) tissue layout. The same patterns are therefore likely to occur in many other contexts.
PMCID: PMC3361061  PMID: 22654886
root nodules; auxin transport manipulation; modeling
21.  Nonlegumes, Legumes, and Root Nodules Harbor Different Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungal Communities 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2004;70(10):6240-6246.
Legumes are an important plant functional group since they can form a tripartite symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing Rhizobium bacteria and phosphorus-acquiring arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). However, not much is known about AMF community composition in legumes and their root nodules. In this study, we analyzed the AMF community composition in the roots of three nonlegumes and in the roots and root nodules of three legumes growing in a natural dune grassland. We amplified a portion of the small-subunit ribosomal DNA and analyzed it by using restriction fragment length polymorphism and direct sequencing. We found differences in AMF communities between legumes and nonlegumes and between legume roots and root nodules. Different plant species also contained different AMF communities, with different AMF diversity. One AMF sequence type was much more abundant in legumes than in nonlegumes (39 and 13%, respectively). Root nodules contained characteristic AMF communities that were different from those in legume roots, even though the communities were similar in nodules from different legume species. One AMF sequence type was found almost exclusively in root nodules. Legumes and root nodules have relatively high nitrogen concentrations and high phosphorus demands. Accordingly, the presence of legume- and nodule-related AMF can be explained by the specific nutritional requirements of legumes or by host-specific interactions among legumes, root nodules, and AMF. In summary, we found that AMF communities vary between plant functional groups (legumes and nonlegumes), between plant species, and between parts of a root system (roots and root nodules).
PMCID: PMC522056  PMID: 15466571
22.  Characterisation of the legume SERK-NIK gene superfamily including splice variants: Implications for development and defence 
BMC Plant Biology  2011;11:44.
SOMATIC EMBRYOGENESIS RECEPTOR-LIKE KINASE (SERK) genes are part of the regulation of diverse signalling events in plants. Current evidence shows SERK proteins function both in developmental and defence signalling pathways, which occur in response to both peptide and steroid ligands. SERKs are generally present as small gene families in plants, with five SERK genes in Arabidopsis. Knowledge gained primarily through work on Arabidopsis SERKs indicates that these proteins probably interact with a wide range of other receptor kinases and form a fundamental part of many essential signalling pathways. The SERK1 gene of the model legume, Medicago truncatula functions in somatic and zygotic embryogenesis, and during many phases of plant development, including nodule and lateral root formation. However, other SERK genes in M. truncatula and other legumes are largely unidentified and their functions unknown.
To aid the understanding of signalling pathways in M. truncatula, we have identified and annotated the SERK genes in this species. Using degenerate PCR and database mining, eight more SERK-like genes have been identified and these have been shown to be expressed. The amplification and sequencing of several different PCR products from one of these genes is consistent with the presence of splice variants. Four of the eight additional genes identified are upregulated in cultured leaf tissue grown on embryogenic medium. The sequence information obtained from M. truncatula was used to identify SERK family genes in the recently sequenced soybean (Glycine max) genome.
A total of nine SERK or SERK-like genes have been identified in M. truncatula and potentially 17 in soybean. Five M. truncatula SERK genes arose from duplication events not evident in soybean and Lotus. The presence of splice variants has not been previously reported in a SERK gene. Upregulation of four newly identified SERK genes (in addition to the previously described MtSERK1) in embryogenic tissue cultures suggests these genes also play a role in the process of somatic embryogenesis. The phylogenetic relationship of members of the SERK gene family to closely related genes, and to development and defence function is discussed.
PMCID: PMC3061892  PMID: 21385462
23.  Iron: an essential micronutrient for the legume-rhizobium symbiosis 
Legumes, which develop a symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, have an increased demand for iron. Iron is required for the synthesis of iron-containing proteins in the host, including the highly abundant leghemoglobin, and in bacteroids for nitrogenase and cytochromes of the electron transport chain. Deficiencies in iron can affect initiation and development of the nodule. Within root cells, iron is chelated with organic acids such as citrate and nicotianamine and distributed to other parts of the plant. Transport to the nitrogen-fixing bacteroids in infected cells of nodules is more complicated. Formation of the symbiosis results in bacteroids internalized within root cortical cells of the legume where they are surrounded by a plant-derived membrane termed the symbiosome membrane (SM). This membrane forms an interface that regulates nutrient supply to the bacteroid. Consequently, iron must cross this membrane before being supplied to the bacteroid. Iron is transported across the SM as both ferric and ferrous iron. However, uptake of Fe(II) by both the symbiosome and bacteroid is faster than Fe(III) uptake. Members of more than one protein family may be responsible for Fe(II) transport across the SM. The only Fe(II) transporter in nodules characterized to date is GmDMT1 (Glycine max divalent metal transporter 1), which is located on the SM in soybean. Like the root plasma membrane, the SM has ferric iron reductase activity. The protein responsible has not been identified but is predicted to reduce ferric iron accumulated in the symbiosome space prior to uptake by the bacteroid. With the recent publication of a number of legume genomes including Medicago truncatula and G. max, a large number of additional candidate transport proteins have been identified. Members of the NRAMP (natural resistance-associated macrophage protein), YSL (yellow stripe-like), VIT (vacuolar iron transporter), and ZIP (Zrt-, Irt-like protein) transport families show enhanced expression in nodules and are expected to play a role in the transport of iron and other metals across symbiotic membranes.
PMCID: PMC3772312  PMID: 24062758
legume–rhizobium symbiosis; nitrogen fixation; nodule; iron; symbiosome; bacteroid; symbiosome membrane
24.  Thiol-based redox signaling in the nitrogen-fixing symbiosis 
In nitrogen poor soils legumes establish a symbiotic interaction with rhizobia that results in the formation of root nodules. These are unique plant organs where bacteria differentiate into bacteroids, which express the nitrogenase enzyme complex that reduces atmospheric N 2 to ammonia. Nodule metabolism requires a tight control of the concentrations of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS) so that they can perform useful signaling roles while avoiding nitro-oxidative damage. In nodules a thiol-dependent regulatory network that senses, transmits and responds to redox changes is starting to be elucidated. A combination of enzymatic, immunological, pharmacological and molecular analyses has allowed us to conclude that glutathione and its legume-specific homolog, homoglutathione, are abundant in meristematic and infected cells, that their spatio-temporally distribution is correlated with the corresponding (homo)glutathione synthetase activities, and that they are crucial for nodule development and function. Glutathione is at high concentrations in the bacteroids and at moderate amounts in the mitochondria, cytosol and nuclei. Less information is available on other components of the network. The expression of multiple isoforms of glutathione peroxidases, peroxiredoxins, thioredoxins, glutaredoxins and NADPH-thioredoxin reductases has been detected in nodule cells using antibodies and proteomics. Peroxiredoxins and thioredoxins are essential to regulate and in some cases to detoxify RONS in nodules. Further research is necessary to clarify the regulation of the expression and activity of thiol redox-active proteins in response to abiotic, biotic and developmental cues, their interactions with downstream targets by disulfide-exchange reactions, and their participation in signaling cascades. The availability of mutants and transgenic lines will be crucial to facilitate systematic investigations into the function of the various proteins in the legume-rhizobial symbiosis.
PMCID: PMC3783977  PMID: 24133498
(homo)glutathione; legume nodules; reactive nitrogen species; reactive oxygen species; redox regulation; symbiosis
25.  RNAi Phenotypes and the Localization of a Protein::GUS Fusion Imply a Role for Medicago truncatula PIN Genes in Nodulation 
The symbiosis between legumes and rhizobia results in the development of a new plant organ, the nodule. A role for polar auxin transport in nodule development in Medicago truncatula has been demonstrated using molecular genetic tools. The expression of a DR5::GUS auxin-responsive promoter in uninoculated M. truncatula roots mirrored that reported in Arabidopsis, and expression of the construct in nodulating roots confirmed results reported in white clover. The localization of a root-specific PIN protein (MtPIN2) in normal roots, developing lateral roots and nodules provided the first evidence that a PIN protein is expressed in nodules. Reduced levels of MtPIN2, MtPIN3, and MtPIN4 mRNAs via RNA interference demonstrated that plants with reduced expression of various MtPINs display a reduced number of nodules. The reported results show that in M. truncatula, PIN proteins play an important role in nodule development, and that nodules and lateral roots share some early auxin responses in common, but they rapidly differentiate with respect to auxin and MtPIN2 protein distribution.
PMCID: PMC2678931  PMID: 19444321
Medicago runcatula; PIN genes; Auxin transport; Nodulation; RNA interference; Auxin distribution

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