In the legume-rhizobia mutualism, the benefit each partner derives from the other depends on the genetic identity of both host and rhizobial symbiont. To gain insight into the extent of genome × genome interactions on hosts at the molecular level and to identify potential mechanisms responsible for the variation, we examined host gene expression within nodules (the plant organ where the symbiosis occurs) of four genotypes of Medicago truncatula grown with either Ensifer meliloti or E. medicae symbionts. These host × symbiont combinations show significant variation in nodule and biomass phenotypes. Likewise, combinations differ in their transcriptomes: host, symbiont and host × symbiont affected the expression of 70%, 27% and 21%, respectively, of the approximately 27,000 host genes expressed in nodules. Genes with the highest levels of expression often varied between hosts and/or symbiont strain and include leghemoglobins that modulate oxygen availability and hundreds of Nodule Cysteine-Rich (NCR) peptides involved in symbiont differentiation and viability in nodules. Genes with host × symbiont-dependent expression were enriched for functions related to resource exchange between partners (sulphate/iron/amino acid transport and dicarboxylate/amino acid synthesis). These enrichments suggest mechanisms for host control of the currencies of the mutualism. The transcriptome of M. truncatula accession HM101 (A17), the reference genome used for most molecular research, was less affected by symbiont identity than the other hosts. These findings underscore the importance of assessing the molecular basis of variation in ecologically important traits, particularly those involved in biotic interactions, in multiple genetic contexts.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics