Horizontal Transfer of Symbiosis Genes within and Between Rhizobial Genera: Occurrence and Importance

Mitchell Andrews, Sofie Meyer, Euan K. James, Tomasz Stępkowski, Simon Hodge, Marcelo F. Simon, J Peter W Young

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Rhizobial symbiosis genes are often carried on symbiotic islands or plasmids that can be transferred (horizontal transfer) between different bacterial species. Symbiosis genes involved in horizontal transfer have different phylogenies with respect to the core genome of their ‘host’. Here, the literature on legume–rhizobium symbioses in field soils was reviewed, and cases of phylogenetic incongruence between rhizobium core and symbiosis genes were collated. The occurrence and importance of horizontal transfer of rhizobial symbiosis genes within and between bacterial genera were assessed. Horizontal transfer of symbiosis genes between rhizobial strains is of common occurrence, is widespread geographically, is not restricted to specific rhizobial genera, and occurs within and between rhizobial genera. The transfer of symbiosis genes to bacteria adapted to local soil conditions can allow these bacteria to become rhizobial symbionts of previously incompatible legumes growing in these soils. This, in turn, will have consequences for the growth, life history, and biogeography of the legume species involved, which provides a critical ecological link connecting the horizontal transfer of symbiosis genes between rhizobial bacteria in the soil to the above-ground floral biodiversity and vegetation community structure.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2018

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© 2018 by the authors.

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