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1.  Examination of Prokaryotic Multipartite Genome Evolution through Experimental Genome Reduction 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(10):e1004742.
Many bacteria carry two or more chromosome-like replicons. This occurs in pathogens such as Vibrio cholerea and Brucella abortis as well as in many N2-fixing plant symbionts including all isolates of the alfalfa root-nodule bacteria Sinorhizobium meliloti. Understanding the evolution and role of this multipartite genome organization will provide significant insight into these important organisms; yet this knowledge remains incomplete, in part, because technical challenges of large-scale genome manipulations have limited experimental analyses. The distinct evolutionary histories and characteristics of the three replicons that constitute the S. meliloti genome (the chromosome (3.65 Mb), pSymA megaplasmid (1.35 Mb), and pSymB chromid (1.68 Mb)) makes this a good model to examine this topic. We transferred essential genes from pSymB into the chromosome, and constructed strains that lack pSymB as well as both pSymA and pSymB. This is the largest reduction (45.4%, 3.04 megabases, 2866 genes) of a prokaryotic genome to date and the first removal of an essential chromid. Strikingly, strains lacking pSymA and pSymB (ΔpSymAB) lost the ability to utilize 55 of 74 carbon sources and various sources of nitrogen, phosphorous and sulfur, yet the ΔpSymAB strain grew well in minimal salts media and in sterile soil. This suggests that the core chromosome is sufficient for growth in a bulk soil environment and that the pSymA and pSymB replicons carry genes with more specialized functions such as growth in the rhizosphere and interaction with the plant. These experimental data support a generalized evolutionary model, in which non-chromosomal replicons primarily carry genes with more specialized functions. These large secondary replicons increase the organism's niche range, which offsets their metabolic burden on the cell (e.g. pSymA). Subsequent co-evolution with the chromosome then leads to the formation of a chromid through the acquisition of functions core to all niches (e.g. pSymB).
Author Summary
Rhizobia are free-living bacteria of agricultural and environmental importance that form root-nodules on leguminous plants and provide these plants with fixed nitrogen. Many of the rhizobia have a multipartite genome, as do several plant and animal pathogens. All isolates of the alfalfa symbiont, Sinorhizobium meliloti, carry three large replicons, the chromosome (∼3.7 Mb), pSymA megaplasmid (∼1.4 Mb), and pSymB chromid (∼1.7 Mb). To gain insight into the role and evolutionary history of these replicons, we have ‘reversed evolution’ by constructing a S. meliloti strain consisting solely of the chromosome and lacking the pSymB chromid and pSymA megaplasmid. As the resulting strain was viable, we could perform a detailed phenotypic analysis and these data provided significant insight into the biology and metabolism of S. meliloti. The data lend direct experimental evidence in understanding the evolution and role of the multipartite genome. Specifically the large secondary replicons increase the organism's niche range, and this advantage offsets the metabolic burden of these replicons on the cell. Additionally, the single-chromosome strain offers a useful platform to facilitate future forward genetic approaches to understanding and manipulating the symbiosis and plant-microbe interactions.
PMCID: PMC4207669  PMID: 25340565
2.  ‘Ca. Liberibacter asiaticus’ Proteins Orthologous with pSymA-Encoded Proteins of Sinorhizobium meliloti: Hypothetical Roles in Plant Host Interaction 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38725.
Sinorhizobium meliloti strain 1021, a nitrogen-fixing, root-nodulating bacterial microsymbiont of alfalfa, has a 3.5 Mbp circular chromosome and two megaplasmids including 1.3 Mbp pSymA carrying nonessential ‘accessory’ genes for nitrogen fixation (nif), nodulation and host specificity (nod). A related bacterium, psyllid-vectored ‘Ca. Liberibacter asiaticus,’ is an obligate phytopathogen with a reduced genome that was previously analyzed for genes orthologous to genes on the S. meliloti circular chromosome. In general, proteins encoded by pSymA genes are more similar in sequence alignment to those encoded by S. meliloti chromosomal orthologs than to orthologous proteins encoded by genes carried on the ‘Ca. Liberibacter asiaticus’ genome. Only two ‘Ca. Liberibacter asiaticus’ proteins were identified as having orthologous proteins encoded on pSymA but not also encoded on the chromosome of S. meliloti. These two orthologous gene pairs encode a Na+/K+ antiporter (shared with intracellular pathogens of the family Bartonellacea) and a Co++, Zn++ and Cd++ cation efflux protein that is shared with the phytopathogen Agrobacterium. Another shared protein, a redox-regulated K+ efflux pump may regulate cytoplasmic pH and homeostasis. The pSymA and ‘Ca. Liberibacter asiaticus’ orthologs of the latter protein are more highly similar in amino acid alignment compared with the alignment of the pSymA-encoded protein with its S. meliloti chromosomal homolog. About 182 pSymA encoded proteins have sequence similarity (≤E-10) with ‘Ca. Liberibacter asiaticus’ proteins, often present as multiple orthologs of single ‘Ca. Liberibacter asiaticus’ proteins. These proteins are involved with amino acid uptake, cell surface structure, chaperonins, electron transport, export of bioactive molecules, cellular homeostasis, regulation of gene expression, signal transduction and synthesis of amino acids and metabolic cofactors. The presence of multiple orthologs defies mutational analysis and is consistent with the hypothesis that these proteins may be of particular importance in host/microbe interaction and their duplication likely facilitates their ongoing evolution.
PMCID: PMC3382624  PMID: 22761700
3.  Cell Growth Inhibition upon Deletion of Four Toxin-Antitoxin Loci from the Megaplasmids of Sinorhizobium meliloti 
Journal of Bacteriology  2014;196(4):811-824.
Toxin and antitoxin (TA) gene pairs are addiction systems that are present in many microbial genomes. Sinorhizobium meliloti is an N2-fixing bacterial symbiont of alfalfa and other leguminous plants, and its genome consists of three large replicons, a circular chromosome (3.7 Mb) and the megaplasmids pSymA (1.4 Mb) and pSymB (1.7 Mb). S. meliloti carries 211 predicted type II TA genes, each encoding a toxin or an antitoxin. We constructed defined deletion strains that collectively removed the entire pSymA and pSymB megaplasmids except for their oriV regions. Of approximately 100 TA genes on pSymA and pSymB, we identified four whose loss was associated with cell death or stasis unless copies of the genes were supplied in trans. Orthologs of three of these loci have been characterized in other organisms (relB/E [sma0471/sma0473], Fic [DOC] [sma2105], and VapC [PIN] [orf2230/sma2231]), and this report contains the first experimental proof that RES/Xre (smb21127/smb21128) loci can function as a TA system. Transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq) analysis did not reveal transcriptional differences between the TA systems to account for why deletion of the four “active” systems resulted in cell toxicity. These data suggest that severe cell growth phenotypes result from the loss of a few TA systems and that loss of most TA systems may result in more subtle phenotypes. These four TA systems do not appear to play a direct role in the S. meliloti-alfalfa symbiosis, as strains lacking these TA systems had a symbiotic N2 fixation phenotype that was indistinguishable from the wild type.
PMCID: PMC3911179  PMID: 24317400
4.  The tRNAarg Gene and engA Are Essential Genes on the 1.7-Mb pSymB Megaplasmid of Sinorhizobium meliloti and Were Translocated Together from the Chromosome in an Ancestral Strain 
Journal of Bacteriology  2013;195(2):202-212.
Bacterial genomes with two (or more) chromosome-like replicons are known, and these appear to be particularly frequent in alphaproteobacteria. The genome of the N2-fixing alfalfa symbiont Sinorhizobium meliloti 1021 contains a 3.7-Mb chromosome and 1.4-Mb (pSymA) and 1.7-Mb (pSymB) megaplasmids. In this study, the tRNAarg and engA genes, located on the pSymB megaplasmid, are shown to be essential for growth. These genes could be deleted from pSymB when copies were previously integrated into the chromosome. However, in the closely related strain Sinorhizobium fredii NGR234, the tRNAarg and engA genes are located on the chromosome, in a 69-kb region designated the engA-tRNAarg-rmlC region. This region includes bacA, a gene that is important for intracellular survival during host-bacterium interactions for S. meliloti and the related alphaproteobacterium Brucella abortus. The engA-tRNAarg-rmlC region lies between the kdgK and dppF2 (NGR_c24410) genes on the S. fredii chromosome. Synteny analysis showed that kdgK and dppF2 orthologues are adjacent to each other on the chromosomes of 15 sequenced strains of S. meliloti and Sinorhizobium medicae, whereas the 69-kb engA-tRNAarg-rmlC region is present on the pSymB-equivalent megaplasmids. This and other evidence strongly suggests that the engA-tRNAarg-rmlC region translocated from the chromosome to the progenitor of pSymB in an ancestor common to S. meliloti and S. medicae. To our knowledge, this work represents one of the first experimental demonstrations that essential genes are present on a megaplasmid.
PMCID: PMC3553834  PMID: 23123907
5.  Exploring the symbiotic pangenome of the nitrogen-fixing bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:235.
Sinorhizobium meliloti is a model system for the studies of symbiotic nitrogen fixation. An extensive polymorphism at the genetic and phenotypic level is present in natural populations of this species, especially in relation with symbiotic promotion of plant growth. AK83 and BL225C are two nodule-isolated strains with diverse symbiotic phenotypes; BL225C is more efficient in promoting growth of the Medicago sativa plants than strain AK83. In order to investigate the genetic determinants of the phenotypic diversification of S. meliloti strains AK83 and BL225C, we sequenced the complete genomes for these two strains.
With sizes of 7.14 Mbp and 6.97 Mbp, respectively, the genomes of AK83 and BL225C are larger than the laboratory strain Rm1021. The core genome of Rm1021, AK83, BL225C strains included 5124 orthologous groups, while the accessory genome was composed by 2700 orthologous groups. While Rm1021 and BL225C have only three replicons (Chromosome, pSymA and pSymB), AK83 has also two plasmids, 260 and 70 Kbp long. We found 65 interesting orthologous groups of genes that were present only in the accessory genome, consequently responsible for phenotypic diversity and putatively involved in plant-bacterium interaction. Notably, the symbiosis inefficient AK83 lacked several genes required for microaerophilic growth inside nodules, while several genes for accessory functions related to competition, plant invasion and bacteroid tropism were identified only in AK83 and BL225C strains. Presence and extent of polymorphism in regulons of transcription factors involved in symbiotic interaction were also analyzed. Our results indicate that regulons are flexible, with a large number of accessory genes, suggesting that regulons polymorphism could also be a key determinant in the variability of symbiotic performances among the analyzed strains.
In conclusions, the extended comparative genomics approach revealed a variable subset of genes and regulons that may contribute to the symbiotic diversity.
PMCID: PMC3164228  PMID: 21569405
Sinorhizobium meliloti; nodulation; symbiosis; comparative genomics; pangenome; panregulon
6.  Sequence Analysis of the 144-Kilobase Accessory Plasmid pSmeSM11a, Isolated from a Dominant Sinorhizobium meliloti Strain Identified during a Long-Term Field Release Experiment†  
The genome of Sinorhizobium meliloti type strain Rm1021 consists of three replicons: the chromosome and two megaplasmids, pSymA and pSymB. Additionally, many indigenous S. meliloti strains possess one or more smaller plasmids, which represent the accessory genome of this species. Here we describe the complete nucleotide sequence of an accessory plasmid, designated pSmeSM11a, that was isolated from a dominant indigenous S. meliloti subpopulation in the context of a long-term field release experiment with genetically modified S. meliloti strains. Sequence analysis of plasmid pSmeSM11a revealed that it is 144,170 bp long and has a mean G+C content of 59.5 mol%. Annotation of the sequence resulted in a total of 160 coding sequences. Functional predictions could be made for 43% of the genes, whereas 57% of the genes encode hypothetical or unknown gene products. Two plasmid replication modules, one belonging to the repABC replicon family and the other belonging to the plasmid type A replicator region family, were identified. Plasmid pSmeSM11a contains a mobilization (mob) module composed of the type IV secretion system-related genes traG and traA and a putative mobC gene. A large continuous region that is about 42 kb long is very similar to a corresponding region located on S. meliloti Rm1021 megaplasmid pSymA. Single-base-pair deletions in the homologous regions are responsible for frameshifts that result in nonparalogous coding sequences. Plasmid pSmeSM11a carries additional copies of the nodulation genes nodP and nodQ that are responsible for Nod factor sulfation. Furthermore, a tauD gene encoding a putative taurine dioxygenase was identified on pSmeSM11a. An acdS gene located on pSmeSM11a is the first example of such a gene in S. meliloti. The deduced acdS gene product is able to deaminate 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylate and is proposed to be involved in reducing the phytohormone ethylene, thus influencing nodulation events. The presence of numerous insertion sequences suggests that these elements mediated acquisition of accessory plasmid modules.
PMCID: PMC1472397  PMID: 16672515
7.  pSymA-Dependent Mobilization of the Sinorhizobium meliloti pSymB Megaplasmid ▿ †  
Journal of Bacteriology  2010;192(23):6309-6312.
Sinorhizobium meliloti 1021 carries two megaplasmids, pSymA of 1,354 kb and pSymB of 1,683 kb, which are essential in establishing symbiosis with its legume hosts and important for bacterial fitness in the rhizosphere. We have previously shown that pSymA is self-transmissible and that its conjugal functions are regulated by the transcriptional repressor RctA. Here, we show conjugal transfer of pSymB as an in trans mobilization event that requires the type IV secretion system encoded by pSymA. pSymB carries a functional oriT and an adjacent relaxase gene, traA2, that is also transcriptionally repressed by rctA. Both symbiotic megaplasmids would require the relaxase genes in cis with their respective oriTs to achieve the highest transfer efficiencies.
PMCID: PMC2981219  PMID: 20889746
8.  FixJ: a Major Regulator of the Oxygen Limitation Response and Late Symbiotic Functions of Sinorhizobium meliloti 
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(13):4890-4902.
Sinorhizobium meliloti exists either in a free-living state in the soil or in symbiosis within legume nodules, where the bacteria differentiate into nitrogen-fixing bacteroids. Expression of genes involved in nitrogen fixation and associated respiration is governed by two intermediate regulators, NifA and FixK, respectively, which are controlled by a two-component regulatory system FixLJ in response to low-oxygen conditions. In order to identify the FixLJ regulon, gene expression profiles were determined in microaerobic free-living cells as well as during the symbiotic life of the bacterium for the wild type and a fixJ null-mutant strain. We identified 122 genes activated by FixJ in either state, including 87 novel targets. FixJ controls 74% of the genes induced in microaerobiosis (2% oxygen) and the majority of genes expressed in mature bacteroids. Ninety-seven percent of FixJ-activated genes are located on the symbiotic plasmid pSymA. Transcriptome profiles of a nifA and a fixK mutant showed that NifA activates a limited number of genes, all specific to the symbiotic state, whereas FixK controls more than 90 genes, involved in free-living and/or symbiotic life. This study also revealed that FixJ has no other direct targets besides those already known. FixJ is involved in the regulation of functions such as denitrification or amino acid/polyamine metabolism and transport. Mutations in selected novel FixJ targets did not affect the ability of the bacteria to form nitrogen-fixing nodules on Medicago sativa roots. From these results, we propose an updated model of the FixJ regulon.
PMCID: PMC1482993  PMID: 16788198
9.  Application of Multilocus Sequence Typing To Study the Genetic Structure of Megaplasmids in Medicago-Nodulating Rhizobia▿ †  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2010;76(12):3967-3977.
A multilocus sequence typing (MLST) analysis was used to examine the genetic structure and diversity within the two large extrachromosomal replicons in Medicago-nodulating rhizobia (Sinorhizobium meliloti and Sinorhizobium medicae). The allelic diversity within these replicons was high compared to the reported diversity within the corresponding chromosomes of the same strains (P. van Berkum et al., J. Bacteriol. 188:5570-5577, 2006). Also, there was strong localized linkage disequilibrium (LD) between certain pSymA loci: e.g., nodC and nifD. Although both of these observations could be explained by positive (or diversifying) selection by plant hosts, results of tests for positive selection did not provide consistent support for this hypothesis. The strong LD observed between the nodC and nifD genes could also be explained by their close proximity on the pSymA replicon. Evidence was obtained that some nodC alleles had a history of intragenic recombination, while other alleles of this locus had a history of intergenic recombination. Both types of recombination were associated with a decline in symbiotic competence with Medicago sativa as the host plant. The combined observations of LD between the nodC and nifD genes and intragenic recombination within one of these loci indicate that the symbiotic gene region on the pSymA plasmid has evolved as a clonal segment, which has been laterally transferred within the natural populations.
PMCID: PMC2893487  PMID: 20418433
10.  Comparative genomics of the core and accessory genomes of 48 Sinorhizobium strains comprising five genospecies 
Genome Biology  2013;14(2):R17.
The sinorhizobia are amongst the most well studied members of nitrogen-fixing root nodule bacteria and contribute substantial amounts of fixed nitrogen to the biosphere. While the alfalfa symbiont Sinorhizobium meliloti RM 1021 was one of the first rhizobial strains to be completely sequenced, little information is available about the genomes of this large and diverse species group.
Here we report the draft assembly and annotation of 48 strains of Sinorhizobium comprising five genospecies. While S. meliloti and S. medicae are taxonomically related, they displayed different nodulation patterns on diverse Medicago host plants, and have differences in gene content, including those involved in conjugation and organic sulfur utilization. Genes involved in Nod factor and polysaccharide biosynthesis, denitrification and type III, IV, and VI secretion systems also vary within and between species. Symbiotic phenotyping and mutational analyses indicated that some type IV secretion genes are symbiosis-related and involved in nitrogen fixation efficiency. Moreover, there is a correlation between the presence of type IV secretion systems, heme biosynthesis and microaerobic denitrification genes, and symbiotic efficiency.
Our results suggest that each Sinorhizobium strain uses a slightly different strategy to obtain maximum compatibility with a host plant. This large genome data set provides useful information to better understand the functional features of five Sinorhizobium species, especially compatibility in legume-Sinorhizobium interactions. The diversity of genes present in the accessory genomes of members of this genus indicates that each bacterium has adopted slightly different strategies to interact with diverse plant genera and soil environments.
PMCID: PMC4053727  PMID: 23425606
11.  Complete Genome Sequence of the RmInt1 Group II Intronless Sinorhizobium meliloti Strain RMO17 
Genome Announcements  2014;2(5):e01001-14.
We report the complete genome sequence of the RmInt1 group II intronless Sinorhizobium meliloti strain RMO17 isolated from Medicago orbicularis nodules from Spanish soil. The genome consists of 6.73 Mb distributed between a single chromosome and two megaplasmids (the chromid pSymB and pSymA).
PMCID: PMC4192382  PMID: 25301650
12.  Identification of Sinorhizobium meliloti Early Symbiotic Genes by Use of a Positive Functional Screen†  
The soil bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti establishes nitrogen-fixing symbiosis with its leguminous host plant, alfalfa, following a series of continuous signal exchanges. The complexity of the changes of alfalfa root structures during symbiosis and the amount of S. meliloti genes with unknown functions raised the possibility that more S. meliloti genes may be required for early stages of the symbiosis. A positive functional screen of the entire S. meliloti genome for symbiotic genes was carried out using a modified in vivo expression technology. A group of genes and putative genes were found to be expressed in early stages of the symbiosis, and 23 of them were alfalfa root exudate inducible. These 23 genes were further separated into two groups based on their responses to apigenin, a known nodulation (nod) gene inducer. The group of six genes not inducible by apigenin included the lsrA gene, which is essential for the symbiosis, and the dgkA gene, which is involved in the synthesis of cyclic β-1,2-glucan required for the S. meliloti-alfalfa symbiosis. In the group of 17 apigenin-inducible genes, most have not been previously characterized in S. meliloti, and none of them belongs to the nod gene family. The identification of this large group of alfalfa root exudate-inducible S. meliloti genes suggests that the interactions in the early stages of the S. meliloti and alfalfa symbiosis could be complex and that further characterization of these genes will lead to a better understanding of the symbiosis.
PMCID: PMC1449070  PMID: 16597978
13.  Genome Sequence of Sinorhizobium meliloti Rm41 
Genome Announcements  2013;1(1):e00013-12.
Sinorhizobium meliloti Rm41 nodulates alfalfa plants, forming indeterminate type nodules. It is characterized by a strain-specific K-antigen able to replace exopolysaccharides in promotion of nodule invasion. We present the Rm41 genome, composed of one chromosome, the chromid pSymB, the megaplasmid pSymA, and the nonsymbiotic plasmid pRme41a.
PMCID: PMC3556828  PMID: 23405285
14.  Genetic Organization of the Region Encoding Regulation, Biosynthesis, and Transport of Rhizobactin 1021, a Siderophore Produced by Sinorhizobium meliloti 
Journal of Bacteriology  2001;183(8):2576-2585.
Eight genes have been identified that function in the regulation, biosynthesis, and transport of rhizobactin 1021, a hydroxamate siderophore produced under iron stress by Sinorhizobium meliloti. The genes were sequenced, and transposon insertion mutants were constructed for phenotypic analysis. Six of the genes, named rhbABCDEF, function in the biosynthesis of the siderophore and were shown to constitute an operon that is repressed under iron-replete conditions. Another gene in the cluster, named rhtA, encodes the outer membrane receptor protein for rhizobactin 1021. It was shown to be regulated by iron and to encode a product having 61% similarity to IutA, the outer membrane receptor for aerobactin. Transcription of both the rhbABCDEF operon and the rhtA gene was found to be positively regulated by the product of the eighth gene in the cluster, named rhrA, which has characteristics of an AraC-type transcriptional activator. The six genes in the rhbABCDEF operon have interesting gene junctions with short base overlaps existing between the genes. Similarities between the protein products of the biosynthesis genes and other proteins suggest that rhizobactin 1021 is synthesized by the formation of a novel siderophore precursor, 1,3-diaminopropane, which is then modified and attached to citrate in steps resembling those of the aerobactin biosynthetic pathway. The cluster of genes is located on the pSyma megaplasmid of S. meliloti 2011. Reverse transcription-PCR with RNA isolated from mature alfalfa nodules yielded no products for rhbF or rhtA at a time when the nifH gene was strongly expressed, indicating that siderophore biosynthesis and transport genes are not strongly expressed when nitrogenase is being formed in root nodules. Mutants having transposon insertions in the biosynthesis or transport genes induced effective nitrogen-fixing nodules on alfalfa plants.
PMCID: PMC95175  PMID: 11274118
15.  Replicon-Dependent Bacterial Genome Evolution: The Case of Sinorhizobium meliloti 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2013;5(3):542-558.
Many bacterial species, such as the alphaproteobacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti, are characterized by open pangenomes and contain multipartite genomes consisting of a chromosome and other large-sized replicons, such as chromids, megaplasmids, and plasmids. The evolutionary forces in both functional and structural aspects that shape the pangenome of species with multipartite genomes are still poorly understood. Therefore, we sequenced the genomes of 10 new S. meliloti strains, analyzed with four publicly available additional genomic sequences. Results indicated that the three main replicons present in these strains (a chromosome, a chromid, and a megaplasmid) partly show replicon-specific behaviors related to strain differentiation. In particular, the pSymB chromid was shown to be a hot spot for positively selected genes, and, unexpectedly, genes resident in the pSymB chromid were also found to be more widespread in distant taxa than those located in the other replicons. Moreover, through the exploitation of a DNA proximity network, a series of conserved “DNA backbones” were found to shape the evolution of the genome structure, with the rest of the genome experiencing rearrangements. The presented data allow depicting a scenario where the pSymB chromid has a distinctive role in intraspecies differentiation and in evolution through positive selection, whereas the pSymA megaplasmid mostly contributes to structural fluidity and to the emergence of new functions, indicating a specific evolutionary role for each replicon in the pangenome evolution.
PMCID: PMC3622305  PMID: 23431003
chromid; pangenome; bacteria; selection
16.  The Sinorhizobium meliloti RNA chaperone Hfq influences central carbon metabolism and the symbiotic interaction with alfalfa 
BMC Microbiology  2010;10:71.
The bacterial Hfq protein is able to interact with diverse RNA molecules, including regulatory small non-coding RNAs (sRNAs), and thus it is recognized as a global post-transcriptional regulator of gene expression. Loss of Hfq has an extensive impact in bacterial physiology which in several animal pathogens influences virulence. Sinorhizobium meliloti is a model soil bacterium known for its ability to establish a beneficial nitrogen-fixing intracellular symbiosis with alfalfa. Despite the predicted general involvement of Hfq in the establishment of successful bacteria-eukaryote interactions, its function in S. meliloti has remained unexplored.
Two independent S. meliloti mutants, 2011-3.4 and 1021Δhfq, were obtained by disruption and deletion of the hfq gene in the wild-type strains 2011 and 1021, respectively, both exhibiting similar growth defects as free-living bacteria. Transcriptomic profiling of 1021Δhfq revealed a general down-regulation of genes of sugar transporters and some enzymes of the central carbon metabolism, whereas transcripts specifying the uptake and metabolism of nitrogen sources (mainly amino acids) were more abundant than in the wild-type strain. Proteomic analysis of the 2011-3.4 mutant independently confirmed these observations. Symbiotic tests showed that lack of Hfq led to a delayed nodulation, severely compromised bacterial competitiveness on alfalfa roots and impaired normal plant growth. Furthermore, a large proportion of nodules (55%-64%) elicited by the 1021Δhfq mutant were non-fixing, with scarce content in bacteroids and signs of premature senescence of endosymbiotic bacteria. RT-PCR experiments on RNA from bacteria grown under aerobic and microoxic conditions revealed that Hfq contributes to regulation of nifA and fixK1/K2, the genes controlling nitrogen fixation, although the Hfq-mediated regulation of fixK is only aerobiosis dependent. Finally, we found that some of the recently identified S. meliloti sRNAs co-inmunoprecipitate with a FLAG-epitope tagged Hfq protein.
Our results support that the S. meliloti RNA chaperone Hfq contributes to the control of central metabolic pathways in free-living bacteria and influences rhizospheric competence, survival of the microsymbiont within the nodule cells and nitrogen fixation during the symbiotic interaction with its legume host alfalfa. The identified S. meliloti Hfq-binding sRNAs are predicted to participate in the Hfq regulatory network.
PMCID: PMC2848018  PMID: 20205931
17.  New Recombination Methods for Sinorhizobium meliloti Genetics 
The availability of bacterial genome sequences has created a need for improved methods for sequence-based functional analysis to facilitate moving from annotated DNA sequence to genetic materials for analyzing the roles that postulated genes play in bacterial phenotypes. A powerful cloning method that uses lambda integrase recombination to clone and manipulate DNA sequences has been adapted for use with the gram-negative α-proteobacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti in two ways that increase the utility of the system. Adding plasmid oriT sequences to a set of vehicles allows the plasmids to be transferred to S. meliloti by conjugation and also allows cloned genes to be recombined from one plasmid to another in vivo by a pentaparental mating protocol, saving considerable time and expense. In addition, vehicles that contain yeast Flp recombinase target recombination sequences allow the construction of deletion mutations where the end points of the deletions are located at the ends of the cloned genes. Several deletions were constructed in a cluster of 60 genes on the symbiotic plasmid (pSymA) of S. meliloti, predicted to code for a denitrification pathway. The mutations do not affect the ability of the bacteria to form nitrogen-fixing nodules on Medicago sativa (alfalfa) roots.
PMCID: PMC404432  PMID: 15128536
18.  Directed Construction and Analysis of a Sinorhizobium meliloti pSymA Deletion Mutant Library 
Resources from the Sinorhizobium meliloti Rm1021 open reading frame (ORF) plasmid libraries were used in a medium-throughput method to construct a set of 50 overlapping deletion mutants covering all of the Rm1021 pSymA megaplasmid except the replicon region. Each resulting pSymA derivative carried a defined deletion of approximately 25 ORFs. Various phenotypes, including cytochrome c respiration activity, the ability of the mutants to grow on various carbon and nitrogen sources, and the symbiotic effectiveness of the mutants with alfalfa, were analyzed. This approach allowed us to systematically evaluate the potential impact of regions of Rm1021 pSymA for their free-living and symbiotic phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC3592244  PMID: 23335760
19.  An Evolutionary Hot Spot: the pNGR234b Replicon of Rhizobium sp. Strain NGR234 
Journal of Bacteriology  2004;186(2):535-542.
Rhizobium sp. strain NGR234 has an exceptionally broad host range and is able to nodulate more than 112 genera of legumes. Since the overall organization of the NGR234 genome is strikingly similar to that of the narrow-host-range symbiont Rhizobium meliloti strain 1021 (also known as Sinorhizobium meliloti), the obvious question is why are the spectra of hosts so different? Study of the early symbiotic genes of both bacteria (carried by the SymA plasmids) did not provide obvious answers. Yet, both rhizobia also possess second megaplasmids that bear, among many other genes, those that are involved in the synthesis of extracellular polysaccharides (EPSs). EPSs are involved in fine-tuning symbiotic interactions and thus may help answer the broad- versus narrow-host-range question. Accordingly, we sequenced two fragments (total, 594 kb) that encode 575 open reading frames (ORFs). Comparisons revealed 19 conserved gene clusters with high similarity to R. meliloti, suggesting that a minimum of 28% (158 ORFs) of the genetic information may have been acquired from a common ancestor. The largest conserved cluster carried the exo and exs genes and contained 31 ORFs. In addition, nine highly conserved regions with high similarity to Agrobacterium tumefaciens C58, Bradyrhizobium japonicum USDA110, and Mesorhizobium loti strain MAFF303099, as well as two conserved clusters that are highly homologous to similar regions in the plant pathogen Erwinia carotovora, were identified. Altogether, these findings suggest that ≥40% of the pNGR234b genes are not strain specific and were probably acquired from a wide variety of other microbes. The presence of 26 ORFs coding for transposases and site-specific integrases supports this contention. Surprisingly, several genes involved in the degradation of aromatic carbon sources and genes coding for a type IV pilus were also found.
PMCID: PMC305759  PMID: 14702322
20.  Replicon-Dependent Differentiation of Symbiosis-Related Genes in Sinorhizobium Strains Nodulating Glycine max 
In order to investigate the genetic differentiation of Sinorhizobium strains nodulating Glycine max and related microevolutionary mechanisms, three housekeeping genes (SMc00019, truA, and thrA) and 16 symbiosis-related genes on the chromosome (7 genes), pSymA (6 genes), and pSymB (3 genes) were analyzed. Five distinct species were identified among the test strains by calculating the average nucleotide identity (ANI) of SMc00019-truA-thrA: Sinorhizobium fredii, Sinorhizobium sojae, Sinorhizobium sp. I, Sinorhizobium sp. II, and Sinorhizobium sp. III. These species assignments were also supported by population genetics and phylogenetic analyses of housekeeping genes and symbiosis-related genes on the chromosome and pSymB. Different levels of genetic differentiation were observed among these species or different replicons. S. sojae was the most divergent from the other test species and was characterized by its low intraspecies diversity and limited geographic distribution. Intergenic recombination dominated the evolution of 19 genes from different replicons. Intraspecies recombination happened frequently in housekeeping genes and symbiosis-related genes on the chromosome and pSymB, whereas pSymA genes showed a clear pattern of lateral-transfer events between different species. Moreover, pSymA genes were characterized by a lower level of polymorphism and recombination than those on the chromosome and pSymB. Taken together, genes from different replicons of rhizobia might be involved in the establishment of symbiosis with legumes, but these symbiosis-related genes might have evolved differently according to their corresponding replicons.
PMCID: PMC3911071  PMID: 24317084
21.  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
22.  In Silico Insights into the Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation in Sinorhizobium meliloti via Metabolic Reconstruction 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31287.
Sinorhizobium meliloti is a soil bacterium, known for its capability to establish symbiotic nitrogen fixation (SNF) with leguminous plants such as alfalfa. S. meliloti 1021 is the most extensively studied strain to understand the mechanism of SNF and further to study the legume-microbe interaction. In order to provide insight into the metabolic characteristics underlying the SNF mechanism of S. meliloti 1021, there is an increasing demand to reconstruct a metabolic network for the stage of SNF in S. meliloti 1021.
Through an iterative reconstruction process, a metabolic network during the stage of SNF in S. meliloti 1021 was presented, named as iHZ565, which accounts for 565 genes, 503 internal reactions, and 522 metabolites. Subjected to a novelly defined objective function, the in silico predicted flux distribution was highly consistent with the in vivo evidences reported previously, which proves the robustness of the model. Based on the model, refinement of genome annotation of S. meliloti 1021 was performed and 15 genes were re-annotated properly. There were 19.8% (112) of the 565 metabolic genes included in iHZ565 predicted to be essential for efficient SNF in bacteroids under the in silico microaerobic and nutrient sharing condition.
As the first metabolic network during the stage of SNF in S. meliloti 1021, the manually curated model iHZ565 provides an overview of the major metabolic properties of the SNF bioprocess in S. meliloti 1021. The predicted SNF-required essential genes will facilitate understanding of the key functions in SNF and help identify key genes and design experiments for further validation. The model iHZ565 can be used as a knowledge-based framework for better understanding the symbiotic relationship between rhizobia and legumes, ultimately, uncovering the mechanism of nitrogen fixation in bacteroids and providing new strategies to efficiently improve biological nitrogen fixation.
PMCID: PMC3272708  PMID: 22319621
23.  The rkp-1 Cluster Is Required for Secretion of Kdo Homopolymeric Capsular Polysaccharide in Sinorhizobium meliloti Strain Rm1021▿ † 
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;191(22):6988-7000.
Under conditions of nitrogen stress, leguminous plants form symbioses with soil bacteria called rhizobia. This partnership results in the development of structures called root nodules, in which differentiated endosymbiotic bacteria reduce molecular dinitrogen for the host. The establishment of rhizobium-legume symbioses requires the bacterial synthesis of oligosaccharides, exopolysaccharides, and capsular polysaccharides. Previous studies suggested that the 3-deoxy-d-manno-oct-2-ulopyranosonic acid (Kdo) homopolymeric capsular polysaccharide produced by strain Sinorhizobium meliloti Rm1021 contributes to symbiosis with Medicago sativa under some conditions. However, a conclusive symbiotic role for this polysaccharide could not be determined due to a lack of mutants affecting its synthesis. In this study, we have further characterized the synthesis, secretion, and symbiotic function of the Kdo homopolymeric capsule. We showed that mutants lacking the enigmatic rkp-1 gene cluster fail to display the Kdo capsule on the cell surface but accumulate an intracellular polysaccharide of unusually high Mr. In addition, we have demonstrated that mutations in kdsB2, smb20804, and smb20805 affect the polymerization of the Kdo homopolymeric capsule. Our studies also suggest a role for the capsular polysaccharide in symbiosis. Previous reports have shown that the overexpression of rkpZ from strain Rm41 allows for the symbiosis of exoY mutants of Rm1021 that are unable to produce the exopolysaccharide succinoglycan. Our results demonstrate that mutations in the rkp-1 cluster prevent this phenotypic suppression of exoY mutants, although mutations in kdsB2, smb20804, and smb20805 have no effect.
PMCID: PMC2772494  PMID: 19734304
24.  A portal for rhizobial genomes: RhizoGATE integrates a S. meliloti genome annotation update with postgenome data 
Journal of biotechnology  2008;140(1-2):45-50.
Sinorhizobium meliloti is a symbiotic soil bacterium of the alphaproteobacterial subdivision. Like other rhizobia, S. meliloti induces nitrogen-fixing root nodules on leguminous plants. This is an ecologically and economically important interaction, because plants engaged in symbiosis with rhizobia can grow without exogenous nitrogen fertilizers. The S. meliloti-Medicago truncatula (barrel medic) association is an important symbiosis model. The S. meliloti genome was published in 2001, and the Medicago truncatula genome currently is being sequenced. Many new resources and data have been made available since the original S. meliloti genome annotation and an update was needed. In June 2008, we submitted our annotation update to the EMBL and NCBI databases. Here we describe this new annotation and a new web-based portal RhizoGATE. About 1000 annotation updates were made; these included assigning functions to 313 putative proteins, assigning EC numbers to 431 proteins, and identifying 86 new putative genes. RhizoGATE incorporates the new annotion with the S. meliloti GenDB project, a platform that allows annotation updates in real time. Locations of transposon insertions, plasmid integrations, and array probe sequences are available in the GenDB project. RhizoGATE employs the EMMA platform for management and analysis of transcriptome data and the IGetDB data warehouse to integrate a variety of heterogeneous external data sources.
PMCID: PMC2656595  PMID: 19103235
Rhizobiales; α-proteobacteria; symbiotic nitrogen fixation; Medicago; symbiosis
25.  Metabolic Capacity of Sinorhizobium (Ensifer) meliloti Strains as Determined by Phenotype MicroArray Analysis▿ † 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2009;75(16):5396-5404.
Sinorhizobium meliloti is a soil bacterium that fixes atmospheric nitrogen in plant roots. The high genetic diversity of its natural populations has been the subject of extensive analysis. Recent genomic studies of several isolates revealed a high content of variable genes, suggesting a correspondingly large phenotypic differentiation among strains of S. meliloti. Here, using the Phenotype MicroArray (PM) system, hundreds of different growth conditions were tested in order to compare the metabolic capabilities of the laboratory reference strain Rm1021 with those of four natural S. meliloti isolates previously analyzed by comparative genomic hybridization (CGH). The results of PM analysis showed that most phenotypic differences involved carbon source utilization and tolerance to osmolytes and pH, while fewer differences were scored for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur source utilization. Only the variability of the tested strain in tolerance to sodium nitrite and ammonium sulfate of pH 8 was hypothesized to be associated with the genetic polymorphisms detected by CGH analysis. Colony and cell morphologies and the ability to nodulate Medicago truncatula plants were also compared, revealing further phenotypic diversity. Overall, our results suggest that the study of functional (phenotypic) variability of S. meliloti populations is an important and complementary step in the investigation of genetic polymorphism of rhizobia and may help to elucidate rhizobial evolutionary dynamics, including adaptation to diverse environments.
PMCID: PMC2725449  PMID: 19561177

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