Genetic structure of natural populations of the nitrogen-fixing bacterium Rhizobium meliloti

B. D. Eardly, L. A. Materon, N. H. Smith, D. A. Johnson, M. D. Rumbaugh, R. K. Selander

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The genetic structure of populations of the symbiotic nitrogen-fixing soil bacterium Rhizobium meliloti was examined by analysis of electrophoretically demonstrable allelic variation in 14 metabolic, presumably chromosomal, enzyme genes. A total of 232 strains were examined, most of which were isolated from southwest Asia, where there is an unsurpassed number of indigenous host species for R. meliloti. The collection consisted of 115 isolates recovered from annual species of Medicago in Syria, Turkey, and Jordan; 85 isolates cultured from two perennial species of Medicago (M. sativa [alfalfa] and M. falcata) in northern Pakistan and Nepal; and 32 isolates collected at various localities in North and South America, Europe, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, largely from M. sativa. Fifty distinctive multilocus genotypes (electrophoretic types [ETs]) were identified, and cluster analysis revealed two primary phylogenetic divisions separated at a genetic distance of 0.83. By the criterion of genetic differentiation conventionally applied in defining species limits among members of the family Enterobacteriaceae and certain other bacteria, the two primary divisions of R. meliloti represent distinct evolutionary species. Division A included 35 ETs represented by 209 strains from the eastern Mediterranean basin, northern Pakistan, Nepal, and various other localities worldwide. This division contained the nine commercial alfalfa inoculant strains examined. Division B included 15 ETs represented by 23 isolates, 21 of which were isolated from annual medic species growing in previously uninoculated soils in the eastern Mediterranean basin. The two remaining strains in division B, both representing the same ET, were isolated in the United States and Australia. The common use of certain ETs from both divisions for seed inoculation and for laboratory research accounts for their widespread geographic distribution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-194
Number of pages8
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1990

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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