Split-root study of autoregulation of nodulation in the model legume Lotus japonicus
When high dosages of wild-type Rhizobium meliloti RCR2011 were inoculated at two different times, 24 h apart, onto either the primary roots of alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) seedlings or onto lateral roots on opposite sides of a split-root system, the number of nodules generated by the second inoculum was much smaller than the number generated by the first inoculum. These results provide evidence that alfalfa has an active, systemic mechanism for feedback control of nodulation. Non-nodulating mutants and delayed, weakly nodulating mutants did not elicit a discernable suppression of nodulation by subsequently inoculated wild-type cells. An appreciable number of Rhizobium infections thus seem required to elicit the suppressive response. Mutants in nodulation regions IIb and IIa nodulated extensively in the initially susceptible region of the root, but nodule initiation by these mutants was 100–1000 times less efficient, respectively, than the parent. Nodules formed by these mutants emerged 1 d later than normal. The IIb mutants elicited a relatively strong suppression of nodulation in younger parts of the root, but region-IIa mutants elicited only a weak response. These results indicate that elicitation of the regulatory response need not be proportional to nodule formation and imply that genes in region IIa play an important role in elicitation. At high dosages, the region-II mutants induced the development of thick, short roots in a considerably higher percentage of plants than the wild-type bacteria. Nodules generated by wild-type isolates and region-II mutants did not emerge in strict acropetal sequence, probably because some infections developed more slowly than others. Prior exposure of the root to non-nodulating mutants resulted in nodulation by the parent in regions of the root otherwise too mature to be susceptible, indicating that exposure to these mutants may affect the sequence of root development.