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Rhizobium leguminosarum synthesizes polyhydroxybutyrate and glycogen as its main carbon storage compounds. To examine the role of these compounds in bacteroid development and in symbiotic efficiency, single and double mutants of R. leguminosarum bv. viciae were made which lack polyhydroxybutyrate synthase (phaC), glycogen synthase (glgA), or both. For comparison, a single phaC mutant also was isolated in a bean-nodulating strain of R. leguminosarum bv. phaseoli. In one large glasshouse trial, the growth of pea plants inoculated with the R. leguminosarum bv. viciae phaC mutant were significantly reduced compared with wild-type-inoculated plants. However, in subsequent glasshouse and growth-room studies, the growth of pea plants inoculated with the mutant were similar to wildtype-inoculated plants. Bean plants were unaffected by the loss of polyhydroxybutyrate biosynthesis in bacteroids. Pea plants nodulated by a glycogen synthase mutant, or the glgA/phaC double mutant, grew as well as the wild type in growth-room experiments. Light and electron micrographs revealed that pea nodules infected with the glgA mutant accumulated large amounts of starch in the II/III interzone. This suggests that glycogen may be the dominant carbon storage compound in pea bacteroids. Polyhydroxybutyrate was present in bacteria in the infection thread of pea plants but was broken down during bacteroid formation. In nodules infected with a phaC mutant of R. leguminosarum bv. viciae, there was a drop in the amount of starch in the II/III interzone, where bacteroids form. Therefore, we propose a carbon burst hypothesis for bacteroid formation, where polyhydroxybutyrate accumulated by bacteria is degraded to fuel bacteroid differentiation.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Plant Microbe Interact

Publication Date





67 - 74


Carbon, Glycogen, Glycogen Synthase, Hydroxybutyrates, Mutation, Peas, Phaseolus, Plant Roots, Polyesters, Rhizobium, Symbiosis