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1.  ‘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
2.  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
3.  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
4.  A LuxR Homolog Controls Production of Symbiotically Active Extracellular Polysaccharide II by Sinorhizobium meliloti 
Journal of Bacteriology  2002;184(18):5067-5076.
Production of complex extracellular polysaccharides (EPSs) by the nitrogen-fixing soil bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti is required for efficient invasion of root nodules on the host plant alfalfa. Any one of three S. meliloti polysaccharides, succinoglycan, EPS II, or K antigen, can mediate infection thread initiation and extension (root nodule invasion) on alfalfa. Of these three polysaccharides, the only symbiotically active polysaccharide produced by S. meliloti wild-type strain Rm1021 is succinoglycan. The expR101 mutation is required to turn on production of symbiotically active forms of EPS II in strain Rm1021. In this study, we have determined the nature of the expR101 mutation in S. meliloti. The expR101 mutation, a spontaneous dominant mutation, results from precise, reading frame-restoring excision of an insertion sequence from the coding region of expR, a gene whose predicted protein product is highly homologous to the Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. viciae RhiR protein and a number of other homologs of Vibrio fischeri LuxR that function as receptors for N-acylhomoserine lactones (AHLs) in quorum-sensing regulation of gene expression. S. meliloti ExpR activates transcription of genes involved in EPS II production in a density-dependent fashion, and it does so at much lower cell densities than many quorum-sensing systems. High-pressure liquid chromatographic fractionation of S. meliloti culture filtrate extracts revealed at least three peaks with AHL activity, one of which activated ExpR-dependent expression of the expE operon.
PMCID: PMC135333  PMID: 12193623
5.  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
6.  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
7.  Identification of Two Quorum-Sensing Systems in Sinorhizobium meliloti 
Journal of Bacteriology  2002;184(13):3466-3475.
Sinorhizobium meliloti is a free-living soil bacterium which is capable of establishing a symbiotic relationship with the alfalfa plant (Medicago sativa). This symbiosis involves a network of bacterium-host signaling, as well as the potential for bacterium-bacterium communication, such as quorum sensing. In this study, we characterized the production of N-acyl homoserine lactones (AHLs) by two commonly used S. meliloti strains, AK631 and Rm1021. We found that AK631 produces at least nine different AHLs, while Rm1021 produces only a subset of these molecules. To address the difference in AHL patterns between the strains, we developed a novel screening method to identify the genes affecting AHL synthesis. With this screening method, chromosomal groEL (groELc) was shown to be required for synthesis of the AHLs that are unique to AK631 but not for synthesis of the AHLs that are made by both AK631 and Rm1021. We then used the screening procedure to identify a mutation in a gene homologous to traM of Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which was able to suppress the phenotype of the groELc mutation. A traR homolog was identified immediately upstream of traM, and we propose that its gene product requires a functional groELc for activity and is also responsible for inducing the synthesis of the AHLs that are unique to AK631. We show that the traR/traM locus is part of a quorum-sensing system unique to AK631 and propose that this locus is involved in regulating conjugal plasmid transfer. We also present evidence for the existence of a second quorum-sensing system, sinR/sinI, which is present in both AK631 and Rm1021.
PMCID: PMC135146  PMID: 12057940
8.  A Positive Correlation between Bacterial Autoaggregation and Biofilm Formation in Native Sinorhizobium meliloti Isolates from Argentina 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(12):4092-4101.
Sinorhizobium meliloti is a symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacterium that elicits nodule formation on roots of alfalfa plants. S. meliloti produces two exopolysaccharides (EPSs), termed EPS I and EPS II, that are both able to promote symbiosis. EPS I and EPS II are secreted in two major fractions that reflect differing degrees of subunit polymerization, designated high- and low-molecular-weight fractions. We reported previously that EPSs are crucial for autoaggregation and biofilm formation in S. meliloti reference strains and isogenic mutants. However, the previous observations were obtained by use of “domesticated” laboratory strains, with mutations resulting from successive passages under unnatural conditions, as has been documented for reference strain Rm1021. In the present study, we analyzed the autoaggregation and biofilm formation abilities of native S. meliloti strains isolated from root nodules of alfalfa plants grown in four regions of Argentina. 16S rRNA gene analysis of all the native isolates revealed a high degree of identity with reference S. meliloti strains. PCR analysis of the expR gene of all the isolates showed that, as in the case of reference strain Rm8530, this gene is not interrupted by an insertion sequence (IS) element. A positive correlation was found between autoaggregation and biofilm formation abilities in these rhizobia, indicating that both processes depend on the same physical adhesive forces. Extracellular complementation experiments using mutants of the native strains showed that autoaggregation was dependent on EPS II production. Our results indicate that a functional EPS II synthetic pathway and its proper regulation are essential for cell-cell interactions and surface attachment of S. meliloti.
PMCID: PMC3370541  PMID: 22492433
9.  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
10.  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
11.  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
12.  Sinorhizobium meliloti SyrA Mediates the Transcriptional Regulation of Genes Involved in Lipopolysaccharide Sulfation and Exopolysaccharide Biosynthesis▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2007;189(6):2510-2520.
Sinorhizobium meliloti is a gram-negative soil bacterium found either in free-living form or as a nitrogen-fixing endosymbiont of leguminous plants such as Medicago sativa (alfalfa). S. meliloti synthesizes an unusual sulfate-modified form of lipopolysaccharide (LPS). A recent study reported the identification of a gene, lpsS, which encodes an LPS sulfotransferase activity in S. meliloti. Mutants bearing a disrupted version of lpsS exhibit an altered symbiosis, in that they elicit more nodules than wild type. However, under free-living conditions, the lpsS mutant displayed no change in LPS sulfation. These data suggest that the expression of lpsS is differentially regulated, such that it is transcriptionally repressed during free-living conditions but upregulated during symbiosis. Here, I show that the expression of lpsS is upregulated in strains that constitutively express the symbiotic regulator SyrA. SyrA is a small protein that lacks an apparent DNA binding domain and is predicted to be located in the cytoplasmic membrane yet is sufficient to upregulate lpsS transcription. Furthermore, SyrA can mediate the transcriptional upregulation of exo genes involved in the biosynthesis of the symbiotic exopolysaccharide succinoglycan. The SyrA-mediated transcriptional upregulation of lpsS and exo transcription is blocked in mutants harboring a mutation in chvI, which encodes the response regulator of a conserved two-component system. Thus, SyrA likely acts indirectly to promote transcriptional upregulation of lpsS and exo genes through a mechanism that requires the ExoS/ChvI two-component system.
PMCID: PMC1899389  PMID: 17209018
13.  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
14.  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
15.  Environmental Regulation of Exopolysaccharide Production in Sinorhizobium meliloti 
Journal of Bacteriology  2000;182(3):599-606.
Exopolysaccharide production by Sinorhizobium meliloti is required for invasion of root nodules on alfalfa and successful establishment of a nitrogen-fixing symbiosis between the two partners. S. meliloti wild-type strain Rm1021 requires production of either succinoglycan, a polymer of repeating octasaccharide subunits, or EPS II, an exopolysaccharide of repeating dimer subunits. The reason for the production of two functional exopolysaccharides is not clear. Earlier reports suggested that low-phosphate conditions stimulate the production of EPS II in Rm1021. We found that phosphate concentrations determine which exopolysaccharide is produced by S. meliloti. The low-phosphate conditions normally found in the soil (1 to 10 μM) stimulate EPS II production, while the high-phosphate conditions inside the nodule (20 to 100 mM) block EPS II synthesis and induce the production of succinoglycan. Interestingly, the EPS II produced by S. meliloti in low-phosphate conditions does not allow the invasion of alfalfa nodules. We propose that this invasion phenotype is due to the lack of the active molecular weight fraction of EPS II required for nodule invasion. An analysis of the function of PhoB in this differential exopolysaccharide production is presented.
PMCID: PMC94320  PMID: 10633091
16.  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
17.  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
18.  Physical and genetic map of a Rhizobium meliloti nodulation gene region and nucleotide sequence of nodC. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1985;162(2):469-476.
Infection of alfalfa by the soil bacterium Rhizobium meliloti proceeds by deformation of root hairs and bacterial invasion of host tissue by way of an infection thread. We studied an 8.7-kilobase (kb) segment of the R. meliloti megaplasmid, which contains genes required for infection. Site-directed Tn5 mutagenesis was used to examine this fragment for nodulation genes. A total of 81 R. meliloti strains with mapped Tn5 insertions in the 8.7-kb fragment were evaluated for nodulation phenotype on alfalfa plants; 39 of the insertions defined a 3.5-kb segment containing nodulation functions. Of these 39 mutants, 37 were completely nodulation deficient (Nod-), and 2 at the extreme nif-distal end were leaky Nod-. Complementation analysis was performed by inoculating plants with strains carrying a genomic Tn5 at one location and a plasmid-borne Tn5 at another location in the 3.5-kb nodulation segment. Mutations near the right border of the fragment behaved as two distinct complementation groups. The segment in which these mutations are located was analyzed by DNA sequencing. Several open reading frames were found in this region, but the one most likely to function is 1,206 bases long, reading from left to right (nif distal to proximal) and spanning both mutation groups. The genetic behavior of this segment may be due either to the gene product having two functional domains or to a recombinational hot spot between the apparent complementation groups.
PMCID: PMC218872  PMID: 2985535
19.  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
20.  Electrophoretic separation of the three Rhizobium meliloti replicons. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1991;173(16):5173-5180.
The megaplasmids and the chromosome from the bacterium Rhizobium meliloti 1021 were separated in preparative quantities by using transverse alternating-field gel electrophoresis. The genetic content of each electrophoretically separated band was determined by Southern hybridization with replicon-specific probes and by comparison with Agrobacterium tumefaciens transconjugants harboring either pSym-a or pSym-b megaplasmids. Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis analyses of PacI (5'-TTAATTAA-3') and SwaI (5'-ATTTAAAT-3') digests of the whole genome and of the separated replicons were used to calculate genome sizes in two R. meliloti strains. In these strains, PacI digestion yielded only four fragments for the entire genome. The sizes of the PacI fragments from R. meliloti 1021 in megabase pairs (Mb) were 3.32 +/- 0.30, 1.42 +/- 0.13, 1.21 +/- 0.10, and 0.55 +/- 0.08, for a total genome size of 6.50 +/- 0.61 Mb. Southern hybridization with replicon-specific probes assigned one PacI fragment to the chromosome of R. meliloti 1021, one to pRme1021a, and two to pRme1021b. PacI digestion of A. tumefaciens pTi-cured, pSym transconjugants confirmed these assignments. In agreement with PacI data, the addition of the six SwaI fragments from R. meliloti 1021 gave a genome size of 6.54 +/- 0.43 Mb. pRme1021a was calculated to be 1.42 +/- 0.13 Mb, 1.34 +/- 0.09 Mb, and 1.38 +/- 0.12 Mb on the basis of PacI digestion, SwaI digestion, and the migration of uncut pRme1021a, respectively. pRme1021b was calculated to be 1.76 +/- 0.18 Mb, 1.65 +/- 0.10 Mb, and 1.74 +/- 0.13 Mb on the basis of PacI digestion, SwaI digestion, and the migration of uncut pRme1021B, respectively. The R. meliloti 1021 chromosome was calculated to be 3.32 +/- 0.30 Mb, 3.55 +/- 0.24 Mb, and 3.26 +/- 0.46 Mb on the basis of PacI data, SwaI data, and the migration of uncut chromosome, respectively.
PMCID: PMC208210  PMID: 1860826
21.  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
22.  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
23.  The Novel Genes emmABC Are Associated with Exopolysaccharide Production, Motility, Stress Adaptation, and Symbiosis in Sinorhizobium meliloti▿ †  
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;191(19):5890-5900.
The nitrogen-fixing symbiont Sinorhizobium meliloti senses and responds to constantly changing environmental conditions as it makes its way through the soil in search of its leguminous plant host, Medicago sativa (alfalfa). As a result, this bacterium regulates various aspects of its physiology in order to respond appropriately to stress, starvation, and competition. For example, exopolysaccharide production, which has been shown to play an important role in the ability of S. meliloti to successfully invade its host, also helps the bacterium withstand osmotic changes and other environmental stresses. In an effort to further elucidate the intricate regulation of this important cell component, we set out to identify genetic factors that may affect its production. Here we characterize novel genes that encode a small protein (EmmA) and a putative two-component system (EmmB-EmmC). A mutation in any of these genes leads to increased production of the symbiotically important exopolysaccharide succinoglycan. In addition, emm mutants display membrane-associated defects, are nonmotile, and are unable to form an optimal symbiosis with alfalfa, suggesting that these novel genes may play a greater role in the overall fitness of S. meliloti both during the free-living stage and in its association with its host.
PMCID: PMC2747899  PMID: 19633078
24.  Autoregulation of Sinorhizobium meliloti exoR gene expression 
Microbiology  2010;156(Pt 7):2092-2101.
The successful nitrogen-fixing symbiosis between the Gram-negative soil bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti and its leguminous plant host alfalfa (Medicago sativa) requires the bacterial exopolysaccharide succinoglycan. Succinoglycan and flagellum production, along with the ability to metabolize more than 20 different carbon sources and control the expression of a large number of S. meliloti genes, is regulated by the ExoR–ExoS/ChvI signalling pathway. The ExoR protein interacts with and suppresses the sensing activities of ExoS, the membrane-bound sensor of the ExoS/ChvI two-component regulatory system. Here we show that exoR expression is clearly upregulated in the absence of any functional ExoR protein. This upregulation was suppressed by the presence of the wild-type ExoR protein but not by a mutated ExoR protein lacking signal peptide. The levels of exoR expression could be directly modified in real time by changing the levels of total ExoR protein. The expression of exoR was also upregulated by the constitutively active sensor mutation exoS96, and blocked by two single mutations, exoS* and exoSsupA, in the ExoS sensing domain. Presence of the wild-type ExoS protein further elevated the levels of exoR expression in the absence of functional ExoR protein, and reversed the effects of exoS96, exoS* and exoSsupA mutations. Altogether, these data suggest that ExoR protein autoregulates exoR expression through the ExoS/ChvI system, allowing S. meliloti cells to maintain the levels of exoR expression based on the amount of total ExoR protein.
PMCID: PMC3068678  PMID: 20413557
25.  Biosynthesis of UDP-xylose and UDP-arabinose in Sinorhizobium meliloti 1021: first characterization of a bacterial UDP-xylose synthase, and UDP-xylose 4-epimerase 
Microbiology  2011;157(Pt 1):260-269.
Sinorhizobium meliloti is a soil bacterium that fixes nitrogen after being established inside nodules that can form on the roots of several legumes, including Medicago truncatula. A mutation in an S. meliloti gene (lpsB) required for lipopolysaccharide synthesis has been reported to result in defective nodulation and an increase in the synthesis of a xylose-containing glycan. Glycans containing xylose as well as arabinose are also formed by other rhizobial species, but little is known about their structures and the biosynthetic pathways leading to their formation. To gain insight into the biosynthesis of these glycans and their biological roles, we report the identification of an operon in S. meliloti 1021 that contains two genes encoding activities not previously described in bacteria. One gene encodes a UDP-xylose synthase (Uxs) that converts UDP-glucuronic acid to UDP-xylose, and the second encodes a UDP-xylose 4-epimerase (Uxe) that interconverts UDP-xylose and UDP-arabinose. Similar genes were also identified in other rhizobial species, including Rhizobium leguminosarum, suggesting that they have important roles in the life cycle of this agronomically important class of bacteria. Functional studies established that recombinant SmUxs1 is likely to be active as a dimer and is inhibited by NADH and UDP-arabinose. SmUxe is inhibited by UDP-galactose, even though this nucleotide sugar is not a substrate for the 4-epimerase. Unambiguous evidence for the conversions of UDP-glucuronic acid to UDP-α-d-xylose and then to UDP-β-l-arabinose (UDP-arabinopyranose) was obtained using real-time 1H-NMR spectroscopy. Our results provide new information about the ability of rhizobia to form UDP-xylose and UDP-arabinose, which are then used for the synthesis of xylose- and arabinose-containing glycans.
PMCID: PMC3068629  PMID: 20847005

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