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Spontaneous nodules induce feedback suppression of nodulation in alfalfa

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A small subpopulation of alfalfa (Medicago saliva L.) plants grown without fixed nitrogen can develop root nodules in the absence of Rhizobium. Cytological studies showed that these nodules were organized structures with no inter- or intracellular bacteria but with the histological characteristics of a normal indeterminate nodule. Few if any viable bacteria were recovered from the nodules after surface sterilization, and when the nodular content was used to inoculate alfalfa roots no nodulation was observed. These spontaneous nodules were formed mainly on the primary roots in the region susceptible to Rhizobium infection between 4 and 6 d after seed imbibition. Spontaneous nodules appeared as early as 10 d after germination and emerged at a rate comparable to normal nodules. The formation of spontaneous nodules on the primary root suppressed nodulation in lateral roots after inoculation with R. meliloti RCR2011. Excision of spontaneous nodules at inoculation eliminated the suppressive response. Our results indicate that the presence of Rhizobium is not required for nodule organogenesis and the elicitation of feedback regulation of nodule formation in alfalfa.

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Correspondence to Gustavo Caetano-Anollés.

Additional information

This work was supported by an endowment to the Racheff Chair of Excellence of the University of Tennessee, and the Soybean Promotion Board, Haskinsville, Tenn., USA. We are indebted to Noel Gerahty for performing the acetylene-reduction assays, and Dr. E.T. Graham for allowing the use of microscope facilities.

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Caetano-Anollés, G., Joshi, P.A. & Gresshoff, P.M. Spontaneous nodules induce feedback suppression of nodulation in alfalfa. Planta 183, 77–82 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00197570

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Key words

  • Feedback regulation (nodulation)
  • Medicago (nodulation)
  • Nodulation (spontaneous)
  • Rhizobium
  • Symbiosis (legume-Rhizobium)